The Tuftonboro selectmen broke state law on April 25th by illegally authorizing a payment to Cory Hunter for maintenance work done in the town cemeteries. By law, only the cemetery trustees have the power to authorize such payments. The selectmen were told by Sue Weeks, who is the chairman of the cemetery trustees, at the April 25 selectmen’s meeting that the cemetery trustees were responsible for maintaining the cemeteries, not the selectmen. The selectmen ignored her and voted to pay Cory Hunter, thus breaking the law.
At the May 9th selectmen’s meeting during public comment I cited the specific state laws that govern the cemeteries, which clearly state that only the cemetery trustees have the authority to maintain the cemeteries.
Rather than simply read the statutes themselves and abide by them, the selectmen chose to seek legal counsel from their attorney, Rick Sager. According to the meeting minutes of a hastily scheduled, non-regular meeting on May 13, Sager sent them a memo advising them too “divorce” themselves from the cemetery operations. In other words, Sager clearly told them to follow the law. The selectmen have refused to make Sager’s memo available to the public, citing client-attorney privilege. They have also refused to allow the cemetery trustees to view the memo, even though Sager’s legal opinion obviously concerns the cemetery trustees in their official capacity as elected town officials.
For his advice to follow the law, Sager charged the tax payers of Tuftonboro at least $210.
His invoice lists .80 hours for “Email to/from Karen [Koch, administrative secretary] re: cemetery trustees, including legal research” for which he charged $140. In addition he charged $17.50 for 0.10 hours for “Email to/from Karen re 91-A issue (cemetery trustees).” As well as $52.50 for 0.30 hours for “E-mail to/from Karen re: how best to deal with legal opinions.” Presumably those last two were in regards to whether the selectmen would be required to share the legal memo with the cemetery trustees.
There is an additional charge of $122.50 on 5/18/16 for 0.70 hours for “E-mail to/from Karen re: 91-A issues.” It’s unclear if this was directly related to the selectmen breaking the law on April 25th. 91-A is the “Right to Know” law. However, I had asked Karen Koch in an email on May 17th to view Sager’s memo.
The taxpayers of Tuftonboro had to pay Rick Sager because the selectmen broke the law. $210 is not large in the grand scheme of things. However, it was entirely unnecessary.
The selectmen should have listened to Sue Weeks on April 25th. Not only did she tell them that the cemetery trustees, not the selectmen, were responsible for the maintenance of the cemeteries, she also told them that the cemetery trustees were meeting the follow week to review Hunter’s invoice. She also informed the selectmen that contrary to Carolyn Sundquist’s claim, there was no written contract between the town and Hunter. Furthermore, she told them that Hunter had down the spring clean up work without first talking to the cemetery trustees. Indeed, the last the trustees had heard from Hunter, last fall, he was not sure if he was going to continue doing the work, and wanted to think about it over the winter. Weeks then said that Hunter submitted an invoice April 8th, after the cemetery trustees’ April 5th meeting. Thus, the cemetery trustees had not even had a chance to review his invoice yet. In fact, the trustees hadn’t found out about it until at least a week later. Knowing that the cemetery trustees were meeting to review the invoice, the selectmen nevertheless chose to step in and pay the invoice to Hunter. By doing so, they broke the law. Rick Sager’s advice that the selectmen “divorce” themselves from the cemeteries proves the point.
At the May 24th budget committee meeting, while discussing whether to allow public comment, Carolyn Sundquist (she is the selectmen’s representative to the budget committee) said, “Could I just ask — what would the public say that would change our minds?” She also reminded the budget committee members that “the public does not have a right to speak.”
If the selectmen had listened to the public, in the person of Sue Weeks, on April 25th, then they might not have broken the law, and they would have saved the tax payer at least $210.