By Gail Ober - Laconia Daily Sun
GILMANTON — Selectmen Rachel Hatch and Don Guarino continue to be at loggerheads over what rights an individual selectman has to access town services and what duty a selectman owes to inform the board before his or her actions.
At issue this time is the voters guide that is on the Gilmanton website and was distributed at the deliberative session of Town Meeting, which included a petitioned warrant article about sludge.
This year, Gilmanton voters will get to decide on a ban against sludge – or bio-solids that are used by commercial farmers to fertilize their fields. The petition to ban sludge was submitted by petition, and Guarino is one of the signatories.
The board of selectmen has not taken a position on sludge and planning board members decided they didn't support the warrant article. Though Guarino is the selectmen's representative to the planning board, he recused himself and Selectman Michael Jean took over his spot regarding the sludge discussion.
The original voters guide, which is posted on the Gilmanton website as from the selectmen, describes sludge as a fertilizer. In addition, the original guide said "Class 'A' bio-solids do not require any permit. Class 'B' bio-solids require a permit from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services. There is current bio-solid use of both Class A and B bio-solids in Gilmanton."
Guarino objected to the second two sentences in the voters guide that read: "Should this petition warrant article pass, the current activity would, by right, be allowed to continue. The proposed amendment would only apply to future users of bio-solids and could create an enforcement issue for the town."
He characterized the description as "electioneering," and said it isn't proper for the voters guide to propagandize either for or against a petitioned warrant article. Apparently, and unbeknownst to Guarino, Planning Board Chairman Wayne Ogni felt the same way.
Ogni contacted town attorney Walter Mitchell and was told that Mitchell recommended dropping the last two sentences. Guarino also contacted Mitchell with the same issue. Those sentences are no longer part of the voters guide.
Guarino said he contacted the town attorney not knowing Ogni had contacted him as well. From the sidelines came Steve McWhinnie, who is Guarino's opposition in the upcoming election for the open three-year term on the select board. McWinnie submitted a Right to Know request to the town of Gilmanton requesting a copy of the recording of the Feb. 16 meeting, transcripts of emails Rachel Hatch read at that meeting, and "what was submitted to Walter Mitchell (and) what was submitted to Walter Mitchell by Don Guarino/responses, etc. Full conversation, and documentation pertaining to this situation – bio-solids."
In an interview with McWhinnie about his candidacy last week, McWhinnie, who was accompanied by Hatch, said he had no interest in bio-solids and that it was his brother Bob who is the farmer.
McWhinnie said he is interested in governance and "keeping the ball rolling," by which he meant that Hatch, since she had taken over as chairman, is taking Gilmanton in the right direction. McWhinnie said he also has an interest in overseeing as selectman the upcoming bridge projects.
On Monday night, Hatch called for an emergency selectmen's meeting so the board could give the town administrator some direction that would satisfy McWhinnie's request in a timely fashion.
Hatch and Guarino continued their battle about what Guarino can do without the knowledge and approval of the other two board members. This time, she said, Guarino cost the town money because he reached out to the town attorney.
Jean made a motion to ask the town administrator to release the information requested by McWhinnie and Guarino seconded it.
Hatch accused Guarino of having an agenda regarding the outcome of the sludge vote and using the services of town counsel to further that agenda.
Guarino said his primary interest is that accurate information be distributed by the town, through its selectmen, in the voters guide. He said Tuesday night that he was disappointed that the other two members of the board were not willing to spend as much time as he felt they should on the voters guide, which he said "is owned by the selectmen."
Hatch's reply was that Guarino, once again in her opinion, acted without consulting the other board members. His first offense, according to Hatch, was to contact the former town administrator for input into the reasons why revenue estimates for 2016 were so low.
Guarino said the only reason Hatch called for the emergency selectman's meeting was to publicly shame him. She disagreed, saying she called the meeting to satisfy McWhinnie's request within five days of receiving it.
The board voted unanimously to give McWhinnie all of the information he requested in his Right To Know request.
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