By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — The routine business of appointing members of the public to town boards took a strange turn Monday when a decision to postpone appointments sparked a brief uproar and a walkout by one of the selectmen.
Stephen McWhinnie, chairman of the Gilmanton Selectmen, delayed making appointments to town boards, sparking an argument that led to Selectman Michael Jean walking out of Monday's meeting.
The debate began when selectmen took up a request by Planning Board member Gareth "Marty" Martindale to serve as an alternate member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. An alternate is a fill-in member who can vote when a full-time member fails to show up.
According to the town website (http://www.gilmantonnh.org), vacancies on town boards include two alternate positions on the Planning Board and three alternate positions on the Zoning Board.
At the Thursday, March 16, ZBA meeting, only four of the five full-time members were present to vote.
But before selectmen could wage much discussion, a motion by Jean to confirm Martindale's appointment failed to generate the needed "second" to allow a vote. Instead, selectmen McWhinnie and Marshall Bishop raised their hands in an apparent "no" vote, even though the motion hadn't been seconded.
Bishop later clarified that he had meant to vote to recuse himself, not to vote no. In any event, the failed motion spurred a back-and-forth about why selectmen would not place Martindale as an alternate to the ZBA.
Martindale, the Planning Board vice chairman, had appeared before selectmen at their Feb. 27 meeting to make the same request for appointment as a ZBA alternate. At that meeting, the selectmen had made no decision, saying they wanted more information. Selectman Bishop at that meeting had recused himself from any decision based on his ongoing dispute with the Planning Board over operation of his restaurant at the Gilmanton Winery and what was then an active regulatory review before the ZBA.
Martindale told selectmen both on Feb. 27 and again Monday that he simply wanted to improve communication between the ZBA and the Planning Board. The ZBA is a quasi-judicial body that reviews land uses based on the town zoning ordinance. The Planning Board is a town-created board that reviews site plans and the details of proposed activities.
Martindale said, "There's no such thing as a Planning Board rep," noting that he would not be a representative from the Planning Board to the ZBA.
Elizabeth Hackett, chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, was not present at Monday's selectmen's meeting but clarified in an interview that she researched state law and confirmed that Martindale can serve on both boards. The caveat was that Martindale would not be allowed to vote on an application before the ZBA if that same application had come before the Planning Board and Martindale possessed "inherent knowledge" about it.
"I would not let him vote because that's unfair to the applicant and that's unfair to the rest of the board," she said.
Hackett said she has shepherded this request for dual board membership past the Planning Board and to selectmen. The Planning Board, she said, was aware of his request and expressed no concerns. As a formality, she suggested putting the matter into the minutes of the Planning Board, but the Planning Board did not vote on Martindale being a ZBA alternate.
"I would love everybody to come on as alternates," Hackett said, noting the difficulty of keeping slots filled on boards.
The dust-up at Monday's meeting happened as soon as the board failed to confirm Martindale.
Jean said, "We need alternates. You guys just voted it down. For what reason?"
McWinnie said, "I haven't decided yet. I haven't even spoken with them."
Jean said, "The chairman of the board was here and was in favor. I believe she was in favor of it a couple of weeks ago."
Bishop said, "I recused myself anyway, so I really can't give you a yes or no."
Jean said he was surprised that anybody would want to serve on a board as a volunteer member.
"I think it's a shame," Jean said. "He's willing to volunteer for this board, they need alternates. All he would be is an alternate in case somebody doesn't show up, like the other night, they had a board with four people instead of five. You would stand in for whoever wasn't there. Unless there was a conflict with the Planning Board, then he couldn't."
When town staff clarified that Jean's motion for appointment failed for lack of a second, Jean took issue with Bishop. Raising his voice, Jean said, "I want to make sure you document that he voted against it the first time because he's done that several times in the last year, and I'm getting sick and tired of it."
Asked what he was getting sick and tired of, Jean said, "Conflicts of interest," sparking a brief, muddled argument on the board between Jean and McWhinnie.
Pressed on why he failed to support the appointment, McWinnie said, "I haven't given enough thought to it."
Then, McWhinnie said he wondered if it was a good idea to "combine the two," referring to the Planning Board and Zoning Board.
"I wanted to talk to a few more people before I make a decision about combining two boards," he said.
McWhinnie said Martindale wants to be a representative to the ZBA. "Your exact statement was you wanted to bridge the gap between the ZBA and the Planning Board," he said.
"Only for communication," Martindale said.
With this appointment at an impasse, town staff noted that two other appointments were on the agenda. Perry Onion requested reappointment to the Zoning Board, and William Mahoney requested reappointment to the Planning Board, according to the agenda.
"I'm going to table all of them until next meeting," McWhinnie said.
"I make a motion to adjourn," Jean said.
When nobody seconded the motion, Jean rose from his seat and walked out of the room.
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