The selectmen have called off the planned October 15, 2016, auction of town-owned property because they do not currently have the authority to sell tax-deeded properties, and therefore the auction would be illegal. Only the legislative body of a municipality (i.e. Town Meeting) can authorize the selectmen to sell such property, through a warrant article.
The governing body only has authority to sell if the legislative body (usually the town meeting) has given them this authority by passing a warrant article in accordance with RSA 80:42 or RSA 80:80.
The authorization expires after one year, unless the warrant article states plainly that the authorization is granted “indefinitely, until rescinded.”
Karen Koch, the administrative secretary, explained in an email to me this morning:
The Selectmen were given authority in 1994 at Town Meeting. The Selectmen now have learned since your inquiry that this authority was voted in 2003 to be put as a yearly vote instead effective 2004.
The last yearly vote was done at the 2004 Town meeting with their authority extended until the 2005 Town Meeting. Unfortunately there were no yearly votes after this to extend the authority.
The auction has been postponed until after the 2017 Town Meeting. The date of which will be set depending upon the outcome of the meeting.
This is the third time this year that the selectmen have placed the town in legal jeopardy by not being mindful to follow the law. They previously broke state law by usurping the cemetery trustee’s power to authorize payments for cemetery maintenance. They also engaged in the unconstitutional practice of viewpoint discrimination by allowing questions from Elissa Paquette but no one else.
The selectmen previously have refused to answer questions about the auction:
If the board of selectmen have sold any tax-deeded properties without authorization in the past 11 years, the validity of those sales would be called into question. Anyone who has purchased a tax-deeded property from the town since 2005 might want to seek legal advice.
It’s strange that the selectmen did not do the basic due diligence to make sure that the auction was legal. They could have asked their attorney, Rick Sager, to confirm the legality of the auction. In addition to being the selectmen’s attorney, Sager was the auctioneer that they hired to conduct the auction, from which he would earn a commission on the sale of the properties. This conflict of interest was first raised by Bob McWhirter on June 6th, but the selectmen rejected his concern out of hand. When he asked if they thought it was a conflict of interest to use the selectmen’s own attorney as an auctioneer, Carolyn Sundquist, the chairman of the board, immediately said, “No.”