Carolyn Sundquist Excuse for Meeting Times Proven Baseless

Carolyn Sundquist
Carolyn Sundquist

The Tuftonboro selectmen are refusing to hold their meetings in the evening when more members of the public could attend if they wanted. Instead, the selectmen prefer holding their meetings at 9AM and 4PM, when it is extremely inconvenient for anyone who works normal hours to attend.

Last month Chairman Carolyn Sundquist dismissed the idea of holding selectmen’s meetings at 6:30 or 7PM by saying that evening meetings would be unfair to Karen Koch, the administrative secretary, who would have to attend to take minutes.

The official job description for the Administrative Secretary position states, as a requirement for employment: “Must be able to attend meetings outside of normal hours.”

The job description was last updated by the selectmen on June 10, 2013. Carolyn Sundquist was a selectman at the time. In fact, she was chairman that year. The minutes from the June 10, 2013, meeting show that the selectmen voted unanimously to adopt the Administrative Secretary job description, including the requirement that the employee holding the position must be able to attend meetings outside of normal hours.

The June 10, 2013, selectman’s meeting was held at 7PM.

I am collecting signatures for a petition to place a warrant article in consideration at Town Meeting 2017 to require the selectmen to hold their meetings at 6:30 PM so that more town residents could attend if they want to attend. If you are interested in adding your signature, please let me know by adding a comment to this post and I will bring the petition to you.

I work from home and am able to attend the selectmen’s meetings at 9AM and 4PM. However, I recognize that most people who work normal hours are not able to attend. I wish the selectmen would keep the average working person’s schedule in mind. The selectmen work for us, the residents of the town. They should not hold meetings when it is inconvenient for most people to attend.

 

Sundquist Won’t Say If She’s Running for Reelection

carolyn-sundquistCarolyn Sundquist said today that she doesn’t know yet if she’s running for another term as selectman. Sundquist first ran for selectman in 2008 promising to be a “leader who listens.” More recently Sundquist has unilaterally shut down questions from reporters during meetings, refused to hold meetings at times when more residents could attend, and declared her incredulity at the idea that the public could offer any input of use.

Selectmen Refuse to Hold Meetings in Evening

The selectmen hold their meetings at 9AM and 4PM, usually on Mondays although sometimes on other days. Anyone who has a regular 9 to 5 job, therefore, is unable to attend the selectmen’s meetings if they want to. At their last meeting, I asked the selectmen to consider having one meeting per month at 6:30 or 7PM. Today the selectmen categorically refused to have their meetings in the evening. The reason they gave is that they didn’t think anyone would show up, anyway.

I believe there is a difference between not going to a meeting because you can’t and not going to a meeting because you don’t want to. And I have no illusions that if the selectmen’s meetings were at 6:30 then suddenly 25 people would show up to every meeting. However, if the meetings were at a more convenient time for most of the residents of Tuftonboro, some residents would be able to come to meetings that covered issues of interest to them. For instance, a resident of Eaglemere Road might want to come to a meeting for which the agenda included discussion of the paving of Eaglemere Road (which is a dirt a road). But if they work, and the meeting is at the selectmen’s preferred 9AM? Too bad.

The selectmen prefer not to have meetings in the evening, because it’s more convenient for them. Both more convenient in terms of their schedules (they are all retired), and because fewer residents are able to come if they want to come.

While Lloyd Wood and Bill Marcussen seem more open to public input, Chairman Carolyn Sundquist has proven time and again to be unwilling to listen to any input from the public. “What would come from the public that would change our minds on a vote?” She asked on May 24 of this year. “I don’t know what kind of input they could give us.”

I am collecting signatures for a petition warrant article to be voted on at Town Meeting 2017 to require the selectmen to have all of their meetings, both regular and work session, at 6:30PM so that more people could attend if they wanted to attend. Please let me know if you would like to add your signature. The wording of the warrant article would be as follows:

Article by Petition: To see if the Town will vote to require the board of selectmen to hold all meetings of the board of selectmen, both regular and work session, at 6:30PM to allow as many residents of the town to attend meetings as possible. The selectmen currently hold most meetings at either 9AM or 4PM, when the vast majority of residents are unable to attend. Holding meetings after normal work hours would be in keeping with the spirit of the Right to Know law (RSA 91:A), which states: “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society.”

Carolyn Sundquist has shown little interest in conducting public business openly. In 2015, Carroll County Superior Judge Charles Temple found that the board of selectmen, including Sundquist, had violated the Right to Know law by illegally conducting public business during a non-public session and by holding a public meeting without adequate public notice such that no one attended. For the past six months, Sundquist has been practicing viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional, by allowing Elissa Paquette of the Granite State News to ask questions during selectmen’s meetings but requiring everyone else to wait until the end of the meeting, often after relevant votes had already been conducted, to ask questions.

The selectmen put in countless hours on behalf of our town, and they deserve thanks for their efforts. If they do not wish to hold meetings after normal business hours when more people could come (if they wanted to), then the selectmen can resign. The selectmen work for us, the people. They answer to us. They are not our rulers. They should hold their meetings when it is convenient for the vast majority of residents to attend, not when it is convenient for the selectmen.

Sundquist Squelches Speech

Chairman Carolyn Sundquist today announced that the selectmen will no longer allow questions from reporters during their meetings. This is a reversal of their previous policy. Elissa Paquette, the reporter for the Granite State News, has been allowed by the selectmen to ask questions during meetings. On June 20, 2016, Sundquist stated that Paquette was allowed to ask questions because she was “the reporter.” The change in policy is a direct result of a letter I wrote to the selectmen last week informing them that I am a reporter and that I would be asking questions during the meetings just as Paquette did.

Sundquist made the announcement toward the end of today’s meeting, after Paquette had already left. Paquette, however, made no attempt to ask questions while she was in attendance. It appears she might have been told of the new policy in advance.

Sundquist said that the decision was hers alone, and the three member board had not voted on the subject. When I asked her (during public comment at the end of the meeting) when she had made the decision, she reluctantly said that it was after receiving “feedback.” I asked who the feedback had come from, and she admitted that she had received legal advice from the selectmen’s counsel Rick Sager.

The logical conclusion is that Sager told Sundquist that if the selectmen allowed Paquette to ask questions during their meetings then they had to allow others to ask questions as well. In other words, the policy the selectmen have been following since March, which was to allow Paquette to ask questions but insist that everyone else wait until a period of public comment at the end of the meeting was, in fact, illegal. Had the selectmen continued to engage in viewpoint discrimination — allowing questions only from a friendly reporter — the town would have opened itself up to liability issues.

This is the second time this year that the selectmen have had to correct a policy after receiving legal advice from Rick Sager. Earlier this year the selectmen illegally paid Cory Hunter for groundwork in the town cemetery. Only the cemetery trustees, by law, can authorize such a payment. The selectmen knew this at the time, because Sue Weeks, the chairman of the trustees of the cemetery trust funds, had informed them before they voted to pay Hunter. The selectmen had been illegally managing the cemeteries, by their own admission, for years. After consulting with Sager, the selectmen publicly revised their relationship with the cemetery trustees.

Sundquist’s decision to shut down questions during meetings reflects her broader antipathy toward public involvement in town government. On May 24th, 2016, she stated, “What would the public say that would change our minds on a vote? I can’t imagine what they would say.

Everyone Should Be Able to Ask Questions at Meetings

Here comes another Fourth of July. Independence Day they call it. A year ago in a letter that never got published, I called out the Tuftonboro selectmen for having their heads buried in the sand with their no public comment gag rule, also known as the McWhirter Muzzle rule, at selectmen meetings.

Well, I was wrong. Duffy and Wood may have had their heads buried in the sand, but Selectmen Chair Carolyn Sundquist obviously has hers stuck somewhere else.

At a budget committee meeting on May 24, Sundquist, who is the selectmen’s representative to that group, said that the public doesn’t have a right to speak, and “Could I just ask, what would come from the public that would make us change our minds on something?” Talk about a condescending attitude!

At the June 20 selectmen’s meeting, she refused to share a memo with the cemetery trustees because there “would be no public benefit from the trustees seeing it.” How would she know? She doesn’t allow or listen to public input. If one can ask a question, all should be able to ask a question. All in or all out. All men are created equal. To say one person can speak because she’s the reporter doesn’t cut it.

No special exceptions. It’s called democracy. It’s why we celebrate our freedoms. It’s government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Sundquist has become Tuftonboro’s version of Hillary. The best thing that could happen to Tuftonboro would be if Carolyn Sundquist became Carolyn Soonquits.

Watching Phineas Graves rolling in his grave.

This post appeared as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News.