GILMANTON —Nearly 70 residents have signed a petition to remove Rachel Hatch as chairman of the Board of Selectmen and reinstate the former chairman, Don Guarino.
About 30 or 40 residents showed up Monday at the first meeting of the selectmen since she was made chairman on Nov. 18, but no action was taken by the board.
During the beginning of the public comment period, Hatch made it clear that Guarino's removal as chairman was "not orchestrated," and noted that when Selectman Michael Jean initially made the motion, after a prolonged screaming match between herself, Guarino and Town Administrator Paul Branscombe, she actually moved to end the meeting to let everyone cool down.
However, she said she felt the reason Guarino was removed as chairman was because he was not acting as a team player, going around the board and Branscombe to get information from a previous employee. Jean agreed and said that's why he made the motion.
Guarino defended himself by saying that, according to Branscombe, some paperwork was lost in the flood created by a broken sprinkler system in the building in January, and he called the former town administrator for some information. Guarino added that the way people were blaming the former administrator for the errors in the 2015 budget preparation prompted him to call and ask him what, if anything, happened.
"I don't feel guilty," he said, adding that earlier in the evening he had presented some data to the board about the size and staffing levels of comparable town clerk/tax collectors' offices in the state for comparison to Gilmanton.
"Now I'm being chastised," he said.
Members of the audience had a few things to say as well. Some said Hatch isn't qualified to be chairman because she had been appointed and not elected to this board. Glen Lines likened her being chairman to being a temporary seasonal Walmart employee who suddenly gets promoted to store manager.
"I was appointed, sir," said Hatch in reply.
Hatch was appointed a few months ago to replace Steve MacDonald, who resigned. The decision to appoint her was acrimonious, as Jean supported Hatch while Guarino supported Brett Currier, who ran a last-minute write-in campaign in March and came away in second place. It took two meetings before Guarino agreed to appoint her.
Resident Terry Donovan said she was "profoundly embarrassed" by the town in September and is embarrassed to think people would call Hatch a "transient." She likened Hatch to a good quarterback for the town and approved of some recent personnel decisions.
Craig Gardner said he accepts Guarino's reasoning for contracting the former town administrator and that the petition should trigger some kind of discussion from the board about Guarino's ouster.
Hatch remained steadfast in that she doesn't support any member of the board acting independently of the entire board. She added that the town now has a full-time administrator and research should be agreed upon by the board and funneled through him.
One resident said that Guarino's going around the board is what annoyed Hatch, but added that the previous town administrator is a good resource. He said they should all work together and not try to "catch" someone making a mistake.
While Richard Gillette said he isn't "for or against" anybody and that he just wants some transparency, the majority of people who spoke said they support Guarino being reinstated as chairman until the March election, when Hatch may run on her own.
Hatch said the next public meeting of the board will take place Monday, Dec. l4, and the specific topic of how the board operates will be an agenda item. Selectmen are also scheduled to interview seven engineering firms and review their qualifications to design some replacement bridges. Hatch's plan was to meet in a nonpublic session to protect the reputations of the companies; however, Branscombe said he didn't think that was legal and said he would contact the town attorney for advice.