LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have agreed to provide legal counsel to County Convention Chairwoman state Rep. Colette Worsman in the lawsuit filed against her by the five Democratic members of the Belknap County Convention who have asked Belknap County Superior Court to overturn a 7-7 tie vote that blocked adoption of the 2014 county budget recommended by the commission on Feb. 18.
But at a meeting yesterday afternoon the commissioners, maintaining that the county's legal budget is virtually exhausted, made the appropriation contingent on the County Convention approving a supplemental appropriation of $10,000.
The vote was taken when the convention met in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on Feb 18. Only 13 of the 18 members were present when the meeting was convened a half-hour past the scheduled hour of 5 p.m. In addition to those who showed up for the meeting, Worsman (R-Meredith), arranged for Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), who was tending to a failing roof, to participate by telephone.
The suit, naming Worsman and Cormier, the clerk of the convention, alleges that Worsman violated the provisions of the Right-to-Know Law bearing on members participating by telephone. The Democrats note that the convention was not required to allow one or more members to participate by "electronic means" and claim the decision properly rested with the convention, not the chair. Moreover, they charge that no notice was given to the convention that Comtois would be permitted to participate by telephone nor was the reason he could not be physically present recorded in the minutes as the statute requires. Finally, contrary to the law, Comtois failed to identify anyone else present at the location from which he was participating.
Consequently, the Democrats claim that since "Rep. Comtois' vote was unlawful and in violation of RSA 91-A:2" the vote should be overturned.
When the convention met on March 4 Worsman sought to amend the minutes of meeting of Feb. 18 to show that before the meeting was convened she and other members referred to the Right-to-Know law and discussed the procedure for allowing Comtois to participate by telephone. But that motion failed 5-4 with four abstentions.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said yesterday that she had conferred with County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen, who said that the legal action brought by the five Democrats as individuals representing themselves qualifies as an action against the county and that legal fees should be paid by the county.