MOULTONBOROUGH — Josh Bartlett, who was asked by the Board of the Selectmen to resign from the Planning Board to spare himself public proceedings to remove him for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office," is not alone. Judy Ryerson yesterday confirmed that Town Administrator Carter Terenzini presented her with the same offer last week.
When the selectmen met last week, Bartlett's wife Diane, reading from the prepared statement, disclosed that on July 25 he was summoned to a private meeting with Terenzini and Peter Minkow, town counsel, who informed him that the selectmen, meeting in a non-public session, voted to request his resignation. She said that her husband was told to resign his elected position by the close of business on Monday, July 29.
Ryerson, also elected, said that that she missed the meeting on July 25, but on August 1 was told by Terenzini that the Selectboard voted to request her resignation.
Both Bartlett and Ryerson have insisted they have no intention of tendering their resignations. They claim that neither Terenzini nor the selectmen have explained the circumstances and conduct that led the board to vote to request their resignations. Nor has either received a formal statement detailing the nature of the charges against them.
However, both acknowledge that Terenzini indicated that the proceedings arose from their conduct during the Planning Board's deliberation of a request for a conditional use permit (CUP) by Bear's Nest Trail, LLC. Bartlett and Ryerson said that Terenzini told them that "outside people" had questioned their behavior, but refused to identify the source of the complaints. "We cannot find out who is making these accusations," Bartlett said.
Bear's Nest Trail, LLC constructed a 900-square foot lookout tower, with an average height of 27 feet, around 1,200 feet up the east flank of Red Hill without obtaining the necessary permits from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) and Planning Board.
Reluctant to remove the structure, the property owner approached the ZBA and the Planning Board for approvals after the fact. In June, the ZBA granted a variance from the ordinance prohibiting development on slopes in excess of 25-percent and referred the matter to the Planning Board, which addressed the request for the CUP on June 26 and again on on July 10.
In order to grant the CUP, the board was required to find that the project satisfied 11 criteria and performance standards prescribed by the zoning ordinance. When, after one public hearing and a site visit, the board met on July 10 two of these proved especially controversial: one, requiring the project be consistent with "the spirit and intent of the ordinance" and another requiring that there be no "practicable alternatives" to the project and that all measures have been taken to minimize its impact."
The minutes record that when the board was "polled" on the 11 criteria and standards, it deadlocked three-to-three on the two issues, with Bartlett abstaining on both and Ryerson voting "no" on both.
According to the minutes, Bartlett said that he was "furious that this thing went ahead without a permit." He said that he abstained because he did not believe the two criteria were met. However, he also explained that "despite the fact that we want to pretend that this thing has not been built, the alternative really is to deny it and the effect of that would be to either require it to be moved or taken down or some other, or maybe we go to court for six months or a year. None of which," he was reported to say, "are going to do anybody a lot of good."
Although Bartlett conceded the board would be sending "a very bad message," he concluded that "it is the best interest of the town and the towns people" to grant the CUP and offered a motion to approve the request.
At that point, several members noted that because board split on the two criteria, it had no choice but to deny the CUP. Paul Punturieri then proposed amending the motion to approve the CUP, which would restrict cutting and require re-vegetation of the site.
Tom Howard, the chair of the board who had recused himself from discussion of the merits of the case, raised a point of order, noting that "a tie vote is a failure on the motion," and cautioning that "to take this further before definitively making that point . . . is critical." He suggested that were the board to vote yes after first voting no, its decision could be open to appeal.
Bartlett countered that the board was polled on the 11 criteria and standards, but did not "vote". After much discussion, the minutes record that Ryerson, who originally was polled as a "no" asked if she could change her vote to "yes", noting that she had not voted on a motion, but been polled.
After adopting Punturieri's amendment, the motion to grant the CUP carried by a vote of five-to-two, with Punturieri and Peter Jensen dissenting. Both Bartlett and Ryerson voted with the majority alongside Russ Wakefield, the selectmen's representative, Bob Goffredo and Keith Nelson.
According to statute (RSA 673:13) the selectmen may remove elected members of local land use boards only for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office" and then only after a public hearing. The Selectboard has yet to schedule a public hearing.
"I'm heartsick over this whole thing," said Bartlett, who has retained an attorney.
"I'm absolutely stunned," echoed Ryerson. "Changing your mind is not against the law."