M'boro Planning Board member wants to see minutes of selectmen's non-meeting

MOULTONBOROUGH — Josh Bartlett, who with fellow member of the Planning Board Judy Ryerson faces a public hearing convened by the Board of Selectmen to determine if there is cause to remove them from office, has requested a record of the non-meeting at which the Selectboard decided to initiate of the proceedings.

After the selectmen adjourned their regularly scheduled meeting on July 18, at the request of town administrator Carter Terenzini they entered a so-called non-meeting, at which Town Counsel Peter Minkow was present. Under the "Right-to-Know" law, Bartlett has requested the minutes of the meeting together with any notes or recordings, written or electronic, of any discussions associated with the meeting.

A week after the non-meeting, Bartlett was summoned to a meeting with Terenzini and Minkow. Acting on instructions from the selectmen they offered him the opportunity to resign from the Planning Board or face removal proceedings. When the selectboard met a week later, on Aug. 1, Bartlett asked for an explanation of the charges against him. Terenzini claimed that he was informed of the circumstances when they met the week before and steadfastly declined to discuss the specifics of their meeting in public. However, Terenzini revealed that the selectmen decided, in part, to act on information presented by "outside people," whose identity he has refused to disclose.

According to the Memorandum of the New Hampshire Attorney General on the application of the "Right-to-Know" law, consultation with legal counsel does not qualify as either a meeting or a non-public meeting under the statute. "Minutes," the memorandum reads, "are not required or appropriate for consultation with legal counsel." But, the memorandum continues "deliberation about the matter on which advice is sought may not occur during consultation with legal counsel." Instead, any deliberation must take place in public session, unless the subject is among those that may be addressed in non-public session.

Of the nine matters that may be considered in non-public session, those "which, if discussed in public, likely would adversely affect the reputation of any person, other than a member of the body or agency itself, unless such person requests an open meeting" appears to apply. In other words, the decision whether to discuss sensitive matters publicly or privately rests with those whose reputations may be at stake, not with the selectboard.

There is no record of the selectboard discussing and deciding to begin removal proceedings in pubic session. Nor did the board offer to meet with Bartlett or Ryerson either privately or publicly at their discretion. They only learned their conduct was in question when they were confronted with the choice to tender their resignations or undergo a public hearing a week after the non-meeting on July 18.