Selectman suggests building contractors started effort to remove Moultonborough Planning Board members

MOULTONBOROUGH — While the selectmen appear bent on going forward with removal proceedings against two members of the Planning Board and refusing to name the individuals who brought the original complaint against the pair, when the issue was last discussed Selectmen Russell Wakefield suggested that building contractors were among the complainants.

On July 10, the Planning Board, by a tortured process and in a controversial decision, approved the construction of an observation tower on Red Hill that was built without requisite permits. At least two of the five selectmen fielded complaints from citizens and the Selectboard may or may not have received a written statement from one or more individuals apparently questioning the conduct of Josh Bartlett and Judy Ryerson.
Following their regularly scheduled meeting on July 18, the selectmen held a "non-meeting" with town counsel Peter Minkow to consider the information they had received. At the meeting the Selectboard agreed to begin removal proceedings while instructing Town Administrator Carter Terenzini and Minkow to offer the two members the opportunity to resign rather than be embarrassed by a public hearing. After both Bartlett and Ryerson refused to resign, the selectmen scheduled the public hearings on Monday, September 9 (1 p.m.) to determine if Bartlett and Ryerson should be removed for "inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office."

At their regular meeting last week the selectmen were again pressed to identify those who brought the original complaints, by both residents and Selectman Chris Shipp, who repeatedly said Bartlett and Ryerson were entitled to face their accusers.

In reply to questioning by Steve Maguire, Wakefield said that "if you are a contractor out there in Moultonborough trying to make a living and you had a complaint, you had a problem, you'd be the last one in here complaining, because you may have to go to that Planning Board and you don't want to make enemies on that Planning Board because your application may have some bias to it and maybe it's going to get voted no. I'm not telling you that would happen," he continued, "but you as a contractor are going to think like that. And don't tell me you wouldn't."

"You're playing favorites and protecting people," said Nancy Wright.

Wakefield also said that the complaints were discussed by the board in the July 18 non-meeting and as such remain privileged. He said that "everything we talked about cannot be dispensed to the public." He said that because of how the issue reached the board "we're between a rock and a hard place."

Steve Maguire said that any complaints lodged with the Board of Selectmen are public documents and the identity of those who submit them should not be protected.

Answering a question from Paul Puntunieri, a member of the Planning Board, Wakefield acknowledged that the Selectboard deliberated and voted when they met with Town Counsel. Puntunieri is among those who have noted that the selectmen sought the advice of town counsel in a "non-meeting," not a non-public meeting, of which there is no record. According to the Memorandum of the New Hampshire Attorney General on the application of the "Right-to-Know" law, "deliberation about the matter on which advice is sought may not occur during consultation with legal counsel." Instead, any deliberation, decisions and votes subsequent to that advice must take place in public session.

Selectmen Jonathan Tolman said that the case is a matter of public record. He said that the selectmen decided to proceed after reviewing the minutes and the video of the meeting, which he suggested offered sufficient cause to bring charges against Bartlett and Ryerson. Acknowledging that a number of people had expressed concerns to the Selectboard, he said that their identity was not relevant since the decision to act was made by the selectman.

Wakefield's recent remarks are at odds with earlier statements. Last month he told the Planning Board that the Selectboard received a "petition" from one individual and said that town counsel advised the board there was no alternative but to begin removal proceedings on the strength of it. He insisted that the complainant, not the Selectboard, initiated the proceedings and even suggested the complainant would present the case at the public hearings. He also assured the Planning Board that the identity of the complainant would be disclosed to Bartlett and Ryerson.

However, when the Selectboard next discussed the issue, Joel Mudgett, the chairman, said he could not recall seeing a petition, but allowed that concerns were expressed to him by a number of people who wished to remain anonymous because they might be appearing before the Planning Board in the future.

Since then the Selectboard has denied a Right-to-Know request for records of the non-meeting on July 18, claiming that minutes are not required of non-meetings, and firmly refused to name any of those who approached them about the decision of the Planning Board or the conduct of its members.