To The Daily Sun,
Unfortunately, the recent articles about the Benson incident do not tell the full picture. Although I did nothing wrong, Selectmen Currier and Lavin had a personal agenda to remove me as the chairman of the Planning Board, as they did with Nancy Girard, and were willing to ignore the law and the facts to get it done. Here's what happened.
Benson had violated numerous conditions of his contractor yard permit and failed to remedy the problems after being given many opportunities to do so. Despite the termination of his lease by the owners of the land on which he operated the yard and the revocation of his approval by the Planning Board, he failed to leave the premises. In September 2012, the Planning Board sent a letter to giving him a deadline. The letter warned if he did nothing his personal property would convert to the ownership of the land owners. Its intent was to alert him that he had to act to avoid the consequences. He still did nothing. In January 2013, the land owners made arrangements to remove Benson's property.
Shortly afterward, Benson discovered it was gone and filed a stolen property report with the Gilmanton Police. Sgt. Matt Currier, son of Selectman Currier, investigated the complaint. In the course of his investigation he spoke with the land owners who said they had relied on the board's letter for authority. Sgt. Currier concluded that the September letter was the cause of the problem and that the Planning Board should not have stated that Benson's property would convert to the land owners.
Both Girard and the planning administrator complained that Sgt. Currier did not behave in a professional manner in conducting his investigation. They met with the selectmen and the chief in a nonpublic session to discuss the matter. Because his son was involved, Currier recused himself, but remained to hear the discussions. Subsequently, Girard reported to the Planning Board that she believed that the matter was resolved.
Girard's term as a Planning Board member expired and she was not re-appointed after over 20 years of service. Some members of the Planning Board were concerned that it was connected to the Benson incident. Instead, the selectmen appointed a replacement and an alternate, both relatively new to the town. Together with an appointment last year, Lavin and Currier had three appointments to the board.
I was elected as the new chair of the Planning Board and became aware of a rumor in an e-mail addressed to a number of Gilmanton residents suggesting Girard and the Planning Board acted wrongfully. I sent two e-mails to those persons defending the board's actions. Someone provided them to Chief Collins. Chief Collins was offended in the manner in which I described the incident and complained to the selectmen.
In late April, I was asked to attend a public meeting with the selectmen. Chief Collins said that I had undermined the reputation of his department and Sgt. Currier in my e-mail descriptions of the investigation and wanted the Planning Board to admit its letter to Benson was wrong. Clearly there was a dispute in Sgt. Currier's account and Girard's and the administrator's accounts of their interactions. In an effort to put the matter behind us, I offered to write an apology to the extent I misstated the facts in my e-mails and explained the legal basis for the board's letter to Benson. I also called the chief to set things right. He further complained to the selectmen by letter dated April 29 — calling for my removal as chairman. As promised, I sent a letter to the chief on May 6 and copied the selectmen among other persons.
On May 15, the selectmen approved a letter asking me to resign. Their letter adopted the chief's version of the facts and claim that the Planning Board had acted wrongfully and never referred to my letter which addressed all of those issues — the law and the facts were irrelevant. Currier fully participated despite his conflict of interest and his public statements that he would not have appointed me to the Planning Board. Lavin and Currier saw the controversy as a pretext to get rid of me.
On May 16, in a nonpublic session the planning board thoroughly reviewed the Benson matter and concluded nothing further needed to be done. In that discussion, the selectmen's representative, Guarino, withheld the selectmen's letter because he believe the matter was resolved and the letter was unnecessary. Guarino reported back to Currier and Lavin who were furious. Guarino said he no longer believed the letter was needed and asked to be removed. He was told he could not. Currier and Lavin decided to take matters into their own hands.
The June meeting agenda of the Planning Board listed as a last item a letter from Board of Selectmen. Contrary to the normal practice, the letter was not included in the board materials that were e-mailed to the members in advance so that they can prepare for the meeting nor was it in the packet at the meeting. I asked the administrator for a copy prior to the meeting, but did not get an answer. Just before the meeting, however, Guarino called me to let me know that he would not be attending, Lavin would be filling in for him and alerted me that the letter was asking for my resignation. He said he was against it, considered the matter resolved, but that Currier and Lavin had insisted that it be brought forward.
Regular member Laurie Sanborn was also not present due to a conflict and the alternate was appointed to serve in her place. At the end of the meeting, the letter was presented. I advised the board that I would not resign. Contrary to Guarino's statement, Lavin represented all selectmen were in favor of the letter. Lavin made a motion that I be removed and one of his appointees seconded it. I asked that it be deferred until all of the regular board members could be present. His appointees immediately objected and stated the present board had a right to vote. I explained that I would resign from the board if it was adopted because I didn't want to be associated with a board that acted in this manner. It became clear that all of the Lavin's appointees were in favor. In fact, one said his approval was because the selectmen wanted it. The other long standing members of the board were opposed. I then resigned.
It is clear that some or all of Lavin's appointees knew about the letter in advance and were prepared to act. The other board members were in the dark. Sanborn said if she had known about the letter she would have attended and voted against it. She resigned in protest. Guarino has said he was not in favor. So the motion would have failed had the regular members been in attendance. Ironically it would have also failed at the earlier May meeting if Guarino had presented the letter. Lavin stated publicly at the next selectmen's meeting that his job was to remove me and he got it done. He said that the letter wasn't distributed because he didn't want my friends to attend the meeting.
The Planning Board is intended to be an independent, nonpolitical board which administers the town's planning laws and regulations. Currier and Lavin saw the Benson incident as an opportunity to remove me and used the chief and their appointees to carry out their plan. What's next?
W. John Funk