GILMANTON — Town Administrator Arthur Capello has called the N.H. Attorney General's Office and asked for an outside investigation into whether or not one or more of the selectmen leaked information about the impending retirement of the Police Chief Joe Collins.
State law (RSA 42:1-a) states that a town officer can be dismissed from his or her position for divulging any information he or she learned by virtue of their official position if the public body voted by a 2/3 majority to withhold the information from the public according to the Right-to-Know law. The legal mechanism is through a petition filed with the individual county's superior court — in this case the Belknap County Superior Court.
Capello confirmed yesterday he left a message for AG Investigator Richard Tracy but has yet to hear back from him.
According to minutes of the June 30 Selectboard meeting and an audio recording of another meeting held last Tuesday, the news of Collins' retirement was breached sometime after the close of the non-public session on June 16, when he officially informed the board he was leaving at the end of the year. The minutes were sealed and records show only the three selectmen — Chair Don Guarino, Michael Jean and Stephen McCormack — Capello, Administrative Assistant Stephanie Fogg and Collins were present.
The first public mention of the leak came on June 30 during public comment when Planning Board Chair Wayne Ogni, who was attending the meeting, said he had heard Collins was retiring and wanted to know if the board was hiring from within the department or seeking someone from the outside.
"This is incredible that you are even talking about it," said Guarino, as recorded in the minutes, to which Ogni replied that he had heard it from "a couple different selectmen..."
According to minutes, later in the evening and before the board went into a non-public session with Collins and Sgt. Matt Currier — who was named as the next chief — Guarino questioned whether or not Jean should participate in it, saying he had heard there may be an issue that would bias him.
There was some public discussion, including from Collins, who said confidentiality was violated by a selectman or selectmen and he indicated that the leaker called Fire Chief Joe Hempel, who could not be reached yesterday for comment.
At the end of the June 30 meeting, Guarino said he wanted to learn who leaked the information about Collins's retirement and the matter was tabled to July 7.
According to a tape recording of the July 7 meeting, McCormack admitted he may "have screwed up" and said something to Ogni and Brett Currier. He said he didn't think he violated the Right-to-Know law but if the other two selectmen thought he should step down, he would.
Former Selectman Brett Currier said from the audience he was angry because McCormack and his wife came to his camp (in the northern part of the state) and visited with him and his wife. He said McCormack asked him if his son (Matt Currier) was interested in the job and if he would be applying.
Currier told the full board he tried to get away from the conversation, which was verified by McCormack, because the discussion was upsetting to him and his wife and shouldn't have been happening anywhere, much less in his private home.
McCormack stayed on the board and yesterday declined further comment.
Jean said yesterday that he didn't call anybody. He said he is a call member of the Fire Department and sees Hempel at training but never discussed the non-public session with him or anyone else.
"I think they're picking on me because I'm the new guy," he said.
Jean added that the entire episode was "being blown out of proportion."
"I think it's just another Peyton Place," he said.