Chip Albee Elected Selectman (Updated)

Congratulations to Chip Albee for being elected to another (non-contiguous) term as selectman!

According Town Moderator Dan Barnard, 379 votes were cast yesterday. The turn-out was considerably depressed by the blizzard. For comparison’s sake, in last year’s competitive budget committee election there were 832 ballots cast. And at last November’s federal election, Tuftonboro had 2,047 registered voters, and saw an astonishing 83% turnout with 1,705 votes.

Given the weather conditions yesterday, all the town officials, public employees, and volunteers who worked the polls yesterday (and kept the roads clear) deserve a well-earned thanks.

Update: Dan Barnard has rightfully taken me to task over the number of votes versus ballots in last year’s election. Since the budget committee election was for two positions, the 832 votes translate to 416 ballots. Dan also pointed out that in last year’s uncontested selectmen’s race Bill Marcussen received 386 votes and there were 46 write-ins, for 432 votes total. Therefore, yesterday’s 379 votes in the selectmen’s race, given the storm, are really quite remarkable! (But still very low when compared to the number of registered voters, unfortunately.)

No Postponement for Town Elections

The town elections will proceed as scheduled:

  • There will be no postponement of the Tuftonboro town election and Town Meeting. Those events will proceed as scheduled, with the election tomorrow from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. at the Town House, and the Town Meeting on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Tuftonboro Central School.  We urge everyone who plans to vote in person to come to the polls early in the day, rather than later when the storm is expected to intensify.  Absentee ballots are available at the Town Clerk’s Office until 5:00 pm Monday, March 13, 2017 if you feel that you may not be able to travel on election day.
  • The Town Clerk’s Office will be CLOSED Tuesday, March 14, 2017.  There will be NO EVENING HOURS.

Selectmen Schedule Emergency Meeting

The selectmen just announced that they will have an emergency meeting in less than two hours:

Notice of Emergency Public Meeting

On Monday, March 13, 2017, at 1:00 pm, the Board of Selectmen will meet with Daniel Barnard, Town Moderator, to discuss options relative to tomorrow’s scheduled election. The meeting will be held at the Town Office.

RSA 91-A:2-II states:

Except in an emergency or when there is a meeting of a legislative committee, a notice of the time and place of each such meeting, including a nonpublic session, shall be posted in 2 appropriate places one of which may be the public body’s Internet website, if such exists, or shall be printed in a newspaper of general circulation in the city or town at least 24 hours, excluding Sundays and legal holidays, prior to such meetings. An emergency shall mean a situation where immediate undelayed action is deemed to be imperative by the chairman or presiding officer of the public body, who shall post a notice of the time and place of such meeting as soon as practicable, and shall employ whatever further means are reasonably available to inform the public that a meeting is to be held. The minutes of the meeting shall clearly spell out the need for the emergency meeting.

There is a winter storm warning in effect for Tuftonboro from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, issued by the National Weather Service station in Grey, Maine:

…WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 7 AM TUESDAY TO 5 AM EDT WEDNESDAY…

* HAZARD TYPES…Heavy snow.

* Accumulations…Snow accumulation of 14 to 18 inches.

* TIMING…Snow will begin Tuesday morning. The heaviest snow
and most significant impacts are expected Tuesday afternoon
into Tuesday night. Snow will taper off early Wednesday.

* Temperatures…Around 20.

* Winds…North 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph.

* Visibilities…one quarter mile or less at times.

* IMPACTS…Heavy snow Tuesday and Tuesday night combined with gusty winds and blowing snow…will create near-blizzard
conditions at times and lead to dangerous travel conditions.

Tuftonboro Participates in Work Session with Neighboring Towns

On Tuesday night Selectman Lloyd Wood participated in a joint work session with a number of neighboring towns: Center Harbor, Moultonborough, Sandwich, Tamworth, Meredith, and Wolfeboro. The purpose of the meeting was to explore ways that the towns might be able to share costs for services. Some suggestions for shared resources included emergency services, code enforcement, and human resources (i.e. payroll).

The meeting was exploratory in nature and the town representatives agreed to a second meeting to be held at the Tuftonboro Central Fire Station on Tuesday, April 11, at 6:30PM.

Budget Perjury

Several members of the Tuftonboro Budget Committee are preparing to sign form MS 737, which states: “Under penalty of perjury, I declare that I have examined the information contained in this form and to the best of my belief it is true, correct, and complete.”

But the board of selectmen have not provided the budget committee with basic information about how the budget is calculated: They will not say how much we spend per employee on health benefits. How can any member of the committee declare that the information in the budget is “true, correct, and complete” without knowing whether the information is in fact true, correct, and complete? To do so would be perjury, a class B felony.

The amount proposed for public-employee benefits is $594,274, or 16.2% of the total proposed 2017 budget.

The selectmen claim that public-employee privacy rights prevent them from disclosing how much the town spends per employee on health benefits.

But this information has been made available in previous years. In addition, the Carroll County business office recently turned over approximately 3,000 records in a Right to Know request for all employment records for anyone employed by the county during a specific period, including information about each employee’s eligibility for dental or health insurance. The County also turned over records of insurance claims that had been filed by individual employees during the same period.

As taxpayers, we have the right to know how much we’re spending per employee on health benefits. At the February 15th public hearing on the budget, I stated my concern that the selectmen were exposing the town to future litigation by refusing to disclose basic budget information and flouting Right to Know laws. Selectmen chairman Carolyn Sundquist replied, “What’s one more case?”

Not all budget members are preparing to commit perjury. Steve Brinser, the vice chairman of the committee, will not be signing. “With respect to almost $600,000, that’s in the budget,” said Brinser, referring to the total amount Tuftonboro spends on employee benefits, “which I can’t tie down—that causes me to have a problem. I can’t sign off to attesting that it’s accurate.”

The committee should not commit perjury but instead should insist that the selectmen provide true, correct, and complete information.

Court Grants Selectmen’s Motion to Delay Hearing Until After Sundquist Leaves Office

The selectmen — Carolyn Sundquist, Bill Marcussen, and Lloyd Wood — filed a motion to continue earlier this week with Carroll County Superior Court to delay the hearing in Tuftonboro vs. McWhirter & Ledoux until after Carolyn Sundquist leaves office as chairman of the board of selectmen.

The selectmen sued Bob McWhirter and me in December and tried to force us into court just four days before Christmas. However, we hired an attorney and filed a motion to continue so that we would have time to respond. The court granted our motion and rescheduled the hearing to January 27. The selectmen then filed their own motion to continue, which we assented to, a few days before the 27th, and the hearing was rescheduled again to February 22.

Now they have filed another motion to continue, and today the Court granted the motion. The hearing has not as of this moment been rescheduled.

However, the hearing is almost certain to be after Sundquist leaves office after Town Meeting on March 15. The Court granted the selectmen “reasonable time” to respond to our counterclaim, which we filed on February 7. According to court rules, then, the selectmen have 30 days to respond, which would be March 9.

The selectmen also filed an Objection to our counterclaim, but the Court has granted our motion to add the counterclaim, in which we are seeking reasonable attorney’s fees from the selectmen. We also asked for a court order requiring the selectmen to undergo remedial Right to Know training at their own expense.

All this because the selectmen refuse to follow the clear language of RSA 91-A:4-IV, which states: “No fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.”

I asked to inspect some emails. The selectmen attempted to illegally charge me $6.50 to inspect those emails. I refused to pay. They sued me.

It’s reasonable to assume that the selectmen are spending more than $6.50 to sue me. (Richard Sager’s regular attorney fee is $175 per hour.)

Proposed Operating Budget: $1 Million Increase in Five Years

The proposed 2017 operating budget would appropriate more than $1,000,000 more than the town spent in 2012.

Steve Brinser, the budget committee’s vice chairman, noted that the 2017 operating budget would also increase spending 12% over what was actually expended in 2016 at a time when the Social Security Administration says the rate of inflation is 0.3%.

Carolyn Sundquist: “What’s One More Case?”

Selectmen chairman Carolyn Sundquist last night dismissed concerns that refusing to disclose how much the town spends per employee on health benefits would open the town to future litigation through New Hampshire’s Right to Know statute (RSA 91-A). Seeming to invite a lawsuit, Sundquist said, “What’s one more case?”

The Tuftonboro selectmen are refusing to provide the budget committee with information critical to finalizing the town’s budget. The selectmen claim that public employee privacy rights prevent them from disclosing how much the town spends per employee on health benefits. The selectmen apparently base this decision to violate the Right to Know law on a single email that Carla Lootens, the chairman of the budget committee, received from someone at the New Hampshire Municipal Association. Lootens described this last night as “advice from counsel.” However, it’s not clear that an email from someone at NHMA really constitutes “advice from counsel.”

Recently the Carroll County business office turned over approximately 3,000 records in a Right to Know request that specifically asked for all employment records for anyone employed by the county during a specific time period including each employee’s eligibility for dental or health insurance. The County also turned over records of insurance claims that had been filed by employees during the same time period.

By refusing to provide the budget committee with basic information about how the budget is determined, the selectmen are not only violating the public’s Right to Know but also severely damaging the budget committee’s ability to do the job that they were independently elected to perform.

As budget committee vice chairman Steve Brinser noted, each budget committee member is supposed to sign off on the budget, with the statement “Under penalty of perjury, I declare that I have examined the information contained in this form and to the best of my belief it is true, correct and complete.”

“With respect to almost $600,000, that’s in the budget,” said Brinser, referring to the total amount spent on employee benefits, “which I can’t tie down, causes me to have a problem with that. I can’t sign off to attesting that it’s accurate.”

John Libby, also a member of the budget committee, voiced similar doubts about signing off on the budget when so many of the numbers within it, particularly tax revenues, are estimates. “How do we sign off on this, if this is an estimate, and these are all going to change?” He asked.

Update: In response to a comment from Rick, below, here is the 2016 personnel administration spreadsheet that shows how much we spent on each employee for health benefits:

4155 Personnel Administration for 2016

And here is what the selectmen provided for 2017:

4155 Personnel Administration for 2017