Author Max LedouxPosted on
Last week a local bicyclist notice a sink hole on Mountain Road (otherwise known as Route 171, a state road), very close to Canaan Road. There happened to be a Tuftonboro Police cruiser passing by at the moment and the bicyclist waved the officer over. Within a very short amount of time that same afternoon the sink hole was being patched while Chief Andy Shagoury and Officer Tom LaFavre directed traffic.
Here it is after being patched, looking in the opposite direction of the previous photo:
According to a resident who spoke to Officer LaFavre afterward, the visible hole in the roadway was just the tip of the iceberg, and there was a much larger hole underneath that could have caused the road to cave in.
The good news is that the hole was filled in immediately and also that the state had already informed the selectmen that all of Route 171 will be repaved this summer, from the Ossipee line to the Moultonborough line.
Thank you to the Tuftonboro PD for their prompt attention to this matter!
Rick Sager is the town of Tuftonboro’s attorney. The board of selectmen (Chair Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) met with him on June 6, 2016, to discuss whether to also use his services as an auctioneer to sell properties that the town owns due tax deeding (i.e. the previous owners failed to pay property taxes). During public comment afterward, Bob McWhirter asked if the selectmen thought it might be a conflict of interest for Rick Sager to both be the attorney for the town as well as the auctioneer who then sells the properties. Carolyn Sundquist said that no, it is not a conflict of interest.
[Post updated: See Bob McWhirter’s comment below.]
The Granite State News has repeatedly misreported the facts in recent weeks about a non-existent contract for maintenance work and the statutory responsibility for operating the cemeteries in Tuftonboro. After the paper misreported that there was an “ongoing contract,” I gave the paper’s reporter, Elissa Paquette, proof that there were no signatures on the 2010 document, and therefore it was not a contract. She then wrote, contrary to absolute fact, that there was a “contract signed in 2010.” The publicly available document that Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist originally thought was a contract was not signed by anyone (which I explicitly pointed out to Paquette), and even if it had been signed, it had an expiration date of April 15, 2011. It was never a valid contract. The Granite State News has knowingly attempted to mislead its readers and owes all of us a public retraction and correction. However, editor Tom Beeler insisted to me in an email that Ms. Paquette had reported what others had said. That is false. No one at the May 9 meeting said that there was a “contract signed in 2010.” To the contrary, Selectmen Sundquist stated that there was, in fact, no “paper contract.” See for yourself:
Despite this, Mr Beeler has refused to issue a correction. He did offer to print this letter without comment, however.
To the editor’s great credit, he has published almost every one of my letters over the past year, despite our obvious philosophical differences, and I do thank him for the opportunity for this public forum. I also thank him for reprinting my letter the other week that had been accidentally curtailed the week before. I accept his apology and say it is unnecessary because the abridgment of my letter was clearly unintentional.
The Tuftonboro selectmen acted quickly after I raised the concern on May 9 that they had unintentionally over-stepped their authority by exercising power that is by law the purview of the cemetery trustees. In a hastily scheduled non-regular meeting on Friday, May 13, the selectmen discussed written communication from the town’s attorney, Rick Sager, who advised them to “divorce themselves from the Cemetery Trustees in regards to clerical type responsibilities,” according to the meeting’s minutes. No doubt Mr. Sager’s advice was based on review of the applicable state laws.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t present for the May 13 meeting, and there is no video recording of the meeting for the public to review because the selectmen broke with their customary habit of sending an email with a meeting agenda to a mailing list (which you can sign up for at tuftonboro.org). To be clear, the New Hampshire Right to Know law requires only that they post a notice in two public places at least 24 hours before their meetings; they have no obligation to send out an email. They met the letter of the law for their May 13 meeting, but since the meeting was held on a non-regular day, and no email was sent out, no member of the public, including the videographer, was present, other than Paquette of the Granite State News. I asked Selectman Sundquist on June 6th if, since the meeting was not on the regular schedule, they had simply forgotten to send out the email notice. She replied that the meeting had been properly noticed. I asked if they had decided not to send out the email. She stated the meeting had been properly noticed.
On May 19 the Granite State News quoted Selectman Bill Marcussen as saying, at that impromptu meeting, “The cemetery trustees have clear authority.”
I thank the selectmen for acting so quickly to set the record straight about which public body is responsible for the maintenance of the cemeteries. The Granite State News characterized it as the selectmen “ceding” power to the cemetery trustees, but this is not entirely accurate since the selectmen never had the legal power to cede in the first place. The cemetery trustees have always had the “clear authority.” The selectmen usurped the trustees’ power, but now that they have acknowledged as much, I hope we can all move on.
Last week the New Hampshire House and Senate agreed to a conference committee amendment to HB606 that adds language to RSA 91-A (the “Right to Know” law) that clarifies that no money may be charged for inspecting or delivering (i.e., emailing) electronic copies of public documents.
91-A 4:IV No fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.
The bill now goes to Governor Hassan to be signed into law.
The Tuftonboro selectmen will need to update the town’s official policy. However, since the town has not been charging any fees for the delivery of electronic copies, in practice nothing will need to change.
[Updated] The selectmen have signed a contract with Cory Hunter for landscape maintenance of certain town properties. The board of selectmen recently acknowledged that, contrary to previous claims by Selectman Carolyn Sundquist, no written contract existed between the town and Mr. Hunter for his services. As a result, the selectmen signed a contract with Mr. Hunter. However, the contract has no start and end dates, and contains no conditions.
According to the contract, Mr. Hunter will charge the town of Tuftonboro $60 an hour for the spring and fall cleanup. For other services he charges a flat fee. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the hourly mean wage for an individual landscape worker in New Hampshire is $14.31. It is unclear how the flat fees would translate to hourly wages because some of the fees would go to supplies, such as mulch, and toward machine maintenance and fuel. The contract does not define what a “cleanup” entails or how many workers would be involved, so it is impossible to tell without further information whether $60 an hour is or is not an appropriate fee. I contacted the town of Wolfeboro to inquiry about their landscaping for comparison, but I was told that they do everything in-house, not through a contractor.
When I asked who had drawn up the contract, Karen Koch, the administrative secretary, wrote in an email that Mr. Hunter, not Rick Sager (the town’s legal counsel) had written the contract.
The contract provides no protection for the town in the event of liability issues. It does not require Mr. Hunter to carry liability insurance and does not specify how the work is to be done. In comparison, the 2010 document, which was never signed and therefore never a binding contract, contained clauses that would have required Mr. Hunter to carry $1,000,000 in general liability insurance, as well as to obtain all relevant licenses and permits necessary to perform work on town properties. In addition, the contract provides to protection for Mr. Hunter. If for some reason the town were to refuse to pay Mr. Hunter for services rendered, there is no clause that would protect him in the event he was forced to sue the town for recompense.
Update: I updated and revised this post after I originally posted it. I should have written it more neutrally from the start. A reader pointed out that perhaps the $60 an hour will cover multiple workers. That is certainly possible. If the contract spelled out what “spring and fall cleanups” entailed and how many workers would be used then that would go a long way to explaining the reasoning behind the $60 an hour fee. Also, I did not intend to imply that I believed that Mr. Hunter should be paid the exact hourly mean wage as listed by the BLS. I meant only to illustrate what I thought as a huge, unexplained imbalance between the two figures. I do understand that labor is not the only cost of doing business.
At their May 24, 2016, meeting, the members of the budget committee discussed whether to allow public comment at their meetings. There was broad agreement that the public should be given the opportunity to give input at meetings. The question was whether to allow it during the meeting on relevant topics before the committee votes, or to restrict it to after all votes, immediately before adjournment.
Member Tyler Phillips, Sr., said that it was important to move on from the sense of “Stalinesque” muffling of the public, a perception that he said some had last year when the selectmen voted to not allow public input at their meetings.
Steve Brinser, vice-chairman of the committee, and newly elected member John Libby favored allowing public comment in context after discussion of a particular subject, before a vote.
Bob Theve, newly re-elected to another term, expressed his belief that the public could use the public input to disrupt the meetings. “Do you all want to be here until 3 o’clock in the morning?” He asked.
Carolyn Sundquist, the selectmen’s representative to the budget committee, reminded the other members that while the meetings are open and the public has a right to attend, “they do not have a right to speak.”
The committee voted to allow public comment at the end of meetings, after all votes. Chairman Carla Lootens then stated that they could always revisit the issue if they wanted, but she felt better have an official policy in place.
A conference committee on HB606 has issued a report with an amendment to HB606. This bill clarifies that no fees may be charged to inspect or deliver records when no copies are made. The amendment…
This is of interest to Tuftonboro residents because the selectmen are currently planning on revising the electronic copy policy in order to comply with the recent New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in Green v. SAU 55. Selectman Carolyn Sundqvist stated at a recent board meeting that though the policy has not yet been updated that the town would be comply with the decision.
The Supreme Court in Green does not directly address whether municipalities may charge for electronic copies, only states that if a record exists in electronic form then the municipality must make the record available electronically. The Court did note, however, that RSA 91A, the “Right to Know” law, allows municipalities to charge only the actual cost of making a copy of a record and that the cost of making an electronic copy is almost nothing. Quoting another court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court wrote, “The cost of copying and transporting electronically stored information is virtually nil.”
The New Hampshire legislature appears to be recognizing this reality by moving closer to expressly forbidding municipalities from charging for electronic copies of public records.
Tuftonboro has already adopted this in practice, and the official policy will soon follow. I have obtained several public records electronically without charge since the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision in Greene.