Planning Board member told changing vote got her in hot water

MOULTONBOROUGH — At the request of three of its members, the Planning Board will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, August 14, beginning at 7 p.m. to discuss "the recent events that have led to the requested resignation of two members."

Tom Howard, chairman of the board, granted the request for the special meeting made by Paul Punturieri, Josh Bartlett and Judy Ryerson. Last month, the selectmen instructed Town Administrator Carter Terenzini and Town Counsel Peter Minkow to offer Bartlett and Ryerson the opportunity to resign or face a public hearing to determine if there is sufficient cause to remove them from office for "inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office."

Both Bartlett and Ryerson have refused to resign. Last week, Terenzini said that he was arranging and scheduling a public hearing, the details and date of which will be announced early this week.

Meanwhile, an exchange of e-mails between Terenzini and Ryerson confirms that the proceedings against the two members arose from their conduct when, on July 10, the Planning Board approved construction of an observation tower on the east slope of Red Hill by Bob and Cathy Williams, doing business as Bear's Nest Trail, LLC.

The Williams family built the tower without obtaining the requisite permits and, after not seeking permission sought forgiveness, by asking the ZBA and Planning Board to approve the project after the fact. The ZBA granted a variance and referred the case to the Planning Board for a conditional use permit (CUP), which required meeting 11 criteria.

The minutes record that Peter Jensen, the acting chairman, "polled" the seven members of the board on the 11 criteria. Two of the 11 failed when the board split evenly — three-to-three — with Bartlett abstaining and Ryerson voting no. However, neither believed it was the best interest of the town to require the large structure be dismantled. Ryerson changed her "no" to "yes," breaking the stalemate in the "poll," and Bartlett offered a motion to grant the CUP, which carried five-to-two.

After Ryerson was offered the opportunity to resign, she e-mailed Terenzini seeking an explanation. In an e-mail, Terenzini replied by attaching the statute authorizing the selectmen to remove members of land use boards. Yes, I had found that statute," Ryerson answered. "What I want to know is the specific charges as they relate to my conduct."

In response Terenzini said that a letter giving notice of the public hearing was being drafted and added that "It will most likely include the cause of the hearing to be whether or not you were derelict in your duty and acted with malfeasance in the Bears Nest hearing when you found that the application did not meet two of the criteria and then, without substantial or credible explanation, changed your vote such that the entire board was able to vote in the affirmative on the CUP."

"I am surprised it is only that," Ryerson replied, then continued "I of course cannot be held to be derelict in my duties for voting, since that is my duty, or for changing my mind during deliberation, since that is integral to voting and change of mind is common." Furthermore, she noted that by changing her vote, she did not affect the outcome, since a majority of the board favored granting the CUP without her vote. Ryerson said that she explained her decision to the Planning Board.

In addition, Ryerson explained that because the tie vote could be taken to deny the CUP and the final vote to approve it, by changing her vote "I erased that contradiction without changing the final outcome." She said she had not offered this explanation to the Planning Board, but added "I would have been happy to explain that to anyone who would have chosen to ask. As it now stands," she continued, "I guess I will probably do it in a public forum, unless the Selectboard decides to save itself the public embarrassment of holding such a hearing."