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Selectmen holding extraordinary number of non-public sessions

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,

John Funk's recent letter describing the action of the Gilmanton selectmen in effectuating his departure from the planning board is only part of the larger story. A review of selectmen's minutes over the last several months indicates an extraordinary number of "non-public" sessions. New Hampshire law strictly limits the purposes for which any municipal board, including the selectmen, may exclude the public. Minutes must be kept of such sessions and unless the minutes are expressly "sealed" by vote of the board, they are available to the public. I took some time to review some recent unsealed minutes.

In Mr. Funk's case, the minutes of the session in which the selectmen apparently discussed him read in their entirety: "The selectmen discussed a letter to the planning board." There was nothing in the minutes to indicate what the letter may have been about or that Mr. Funk was personally the subject of discussion.

The statute provides that an individual who is the subject of a non-public session has a right to request that the session be public. However, there is no express requirement that the person be notified that he/she is the subject of a non-public session, and the selectmen do not do so. Thus, the selectmen may discuss and draw conclusions affecting any individual without that person ever knowing that he/she was the subject of discussion nor given an opportunity to participate, respond or request a public session.

It appears that the selectmen are conducting the business of the town in non-public sessions, and using such sessions to conduct vendettas against persons with whom they disagree or have some kind of personal animosity. Anyone who has volunteered to serve on a town board or committee may be in particular jeopardy, without ever knowing that he/she is a target, until some action is taken that affects the way the individual exercises his/her responsibility.

Is this the way we want our town to be governed? Attending selectmen's meetings can be an enlightening experience, and an opportunity to express concern with the conduct of the board. I urge concerned citizens to do so. Check the agenda on the town web site. The selectmen normally meet Mondays at 6 p.m. Ultimately change will have to take place at the ballot box. Citizens need to be willing to step forward, learn about town government, and be willing to run for election and serve in the public interest.

Carolyn Baldwin