Let’s play out the logic of what the Selectmen appear to be recommending at this point.
- Let’s say that 600 people attend Town Meeting, and 2/3 of them vote yes on the proposed million-dollar loan for the library addition. The vote passes.
- The Selectmen post and then hold a public hearing on the proposed million-dollar loan for the library.
- On April 14, the Selectmen hold a second, “special” Town Meeting, at which they ask voters to “ratify” the yes vote recorded on March 14. 300 voters show up this time. 199 vote to ratify, and 101 of them vote not to ratify. The ratification requires 2/3 approval, so it fails because it falls 1 vote short. The 101 people who voted “no” have now overturned the will of the 400 voters on March 14 who voted yes.
What’s key here is that, in having the special Town Meeting, the Selectmen are asking voters merely to “ratify” the earlier vote, because NH law (RSA 31:5) states that money articles cannot be voted on at special meetings unless at least half the registered voters cast ballots at that special Town Meeting.
What is legally dubious is the Selectmen’s contention that the library vote on March 14 would, in fact, be an appropriations vote, and that the later vote in April would merely be ratification. But the town cannot legally hold an appropriations vote for an amount in excess of $100,000 unless the town has held a prior public hearing on the matter.
It appears that the Selectmen have not yet received legal advice from the state — the New Hampshire Municipal Association is not a state body. I believe they are getting legal advice Monday, and I hope they will share that, as far as possible, with Tuftonboro residents.