Special Meeting Not a Legal Option in Library Vote

The selectmen are saying they will call a special Town Meeting in April to “ratify” the vote on the library addition at Town Meeting. This would not be a legal option. The relevant language below is clear.

Please read the following statute:

31:5-b Legalization of Meetings. –
I. In the past, irregularities and procedural defects in actions of municipal legislative bodies have been cured by actions of the general court. The procedure in this section is an alternative approach which enables municipalities to effect legalization by local action.

II. Whenever the legislative body of a municipality has voted by the requisite majority, by written ballot or in any other manner legally authorized, to take any legal actions and the vote is subsequently discovered to be procedurally defective, such defects may be cured and legalized by a vote at a special meeting called for the purpose of ratifying the procedurally defective action. Procedurally defective actions shall mean minor procedural irregularities such as failure to comply with statutory requirements regarding time or place of notice, vote, hearing, or wording, or with any procedural act not contrary to the spirit or intent of the law. The ratification of the procedurally defective action shall be subject to the following requirements:
(a) The municipality may, on the authority of the governing body, call a special town meeting for the exclusive purpose of curing such defect.
(b) The special town meeting called for that purpose may not take place less than 21 calendar days after the original vote.
(c) Not less than 7 calendar days prior to the special town meeting, not counting the day of the special town meeting, the governing body shall conduct a public hearing at which the reasons for the special town meeting shall be explained.
(d) The municipality shall comply with all statutory notice and procedural requirements for holding special town meetings.
(e) The necessary majority required to cure the defects shall be the same as the majority as required for passage of the original article.

III. When any procedural defect has been cured under this section, actions of the voters shall be valid as if all statutorily required proceedings had been complied with.

Obviously, the “defect” in the library-addition article — the selectmen failed to hold a public hearing — has been discovered not subsequently but prior to the vote. So, that’s that. The selectmen cannot use 31:5-b to “ratify” the defective vote that they know now, before Town Meeting, to be defective.

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the “defect” had been discovered after the vote. It is not a “minor procedural irregularity” to not have a public hearing. A minor procedural irregularity would be to post the notice 6 days before the hearing instead of 7, for instance.

Any way you look at it, the selectmen have failed the library crowd. The library-addition article, with the roughly $1 million loan, is not happening this year, because of the selectmen’s failure to hold a public hearing on the loan.

I would hope that the library crowd remembers this significant mistake when voting on Tuesday for the position of selectman.

Skip Hurt, who was going to vote for the library addition, has said that he will be voting for Bob McWhirter even though Skip and Bob disagree about the library addition. Skip wrote on the Tuftonboro Free Speech Forum, “I’m not afraid to have someone with an opposing view from mine if they are competent. In fact I think the town will be better off.”

Published in Town Government
Max Ledoux

Author: Max Ledoux

I've lived in Tuftonboro since 2014. I grew up in Lisbon Falls, Maine (the Moxie capital of the world). I run tuftonboro.net.

2 thoughts on “Special Meeting Not a Legal Option in Library Vote”

  1. Rick: Gordon and Dan said today they are going to get legal advice on Monday about RSA 31:5, the requirement that the ballots cast at a special meeting must be at least 1/2 the number of registered voters.

    Dan is fully aware of 31:5-b, legalization of meetings. He read parts of it aloud at the emergency meeting Friday. Also, he and others have been saying “defect,” “procedural,” and “ratify.” So they’re clearly referring to 31:5-b. So I don’t know and can’t speculate how they can have read 31:5-b and not understand that if they know about the problem before the vote, and the problem is not “minor,” then they can’t use 31:5-b. But they appear to be set on moving forward. However, perhaps that will change on Monday.

    It appears clear they are getting their advice from the New Hampshire Municipal Association and not from Rick Sager. I couldn’t speculate who’s a better attorney. But I think probably the NHMA is better for general information than specific guidance. I obviously have a history with Sager and have been very hard on him at times. But at least he’s the selectmen’s own attorney. I do think he would give them more specific guidance.

    I hope that you will be coming to Town Meeting, Rick. Bring all your friends, too.

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