Ex-Wilmot employee looks to discrimination claim

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – One of the four employees who recently resigned from the town’s employ said that she planned to file a complaint with the NH Commission on Human Rights Commission over alleged health-related discrimination.

In her resignation letter submitted to the board of selectmen dated Aug. 22, Nicole (Nikki) Arsenault, who served as an administrative assistant and land/property use assistant, wrote that she was in the process of submitting a discrimination complaint with the state agency. She said it was related to how she felt she was treated by Nancy Bates, the town administrator, after missing time due to an illness.

‘There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office…’

Nicole Arsenault, former town employee

“I’ve missed several days of work over the past month,” the letter reads. “I have become aware that I am being treated differently due to the fact that Ms. Bates is ‘angry’ with me when I miss work due to illness.”

In a note attached to the letter, Arsenault recorded discussing the issue in an April meeting with Bates. At that time, the assistant wrote, Bates admitted to being angry about the missed hours, adding that it was “not right, but that’s how she (Bates) felt.”

Arsenault’s letter stated that she was resigning because she’d recently approached the town administrator again about the perceived problem, but Bates denied ever admitted that she was angry.

“It was my mistake to not speak up sooner for myself and for those around me, to demand that inappropriate behavior be stopped,” Arsenault wrote to the three-member board of selectmen.

“There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office by the town administrator and it is unacceptable,” she added.

At the September 5 selectmen’s meeting, Rhonda Gauthier, the long-time town clerk/tax collector, and her assistant, Kathy LaVallee, announced that they were resigning their positions effective Dec. 31. In her resignation letter to the board, Gauthier wrote that Bates “fired or bullied all employees.”

But Nick Brodich, chairman of the selectmen, has said that although the board was aware of tensions between Gauthier and Bates, it didn’t feel that they were severe enough to take action.

In a response letter to Gauthier, the selectmen criticized her brief appearance at the Sept. 5 meeting as lacking “substance.” It also said that the charges directed at both Bates and the board (for allegedly ignoring ongoing problems) were “serious and hurtful,” and that, by refusing to meet with the board and Bates, Gauthier’s actions were “as disrespectful as cowardly… (and) completely unbecoming an elected town official.”

Late last week, Gauthier said, “I really want to move on,” adding that “Nancy (Bates) did many little things over a period of time… (but) I resigned because I was tired of seeing it happen to other and nothing being said or done about it. I did not want to be part of that environment any longer.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

 

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Snowstorm brings down trees and wires, but not town workers

By Ray Carbone

The recent area snowstorm resulted in scores of downed wires and tress, power outages, road closures, cancelled school days and a marathon work session for some town employees in the Kearsarge/Sunapee region.

“It was a lot of snow,” said Dennis Pavlieck, Newbury’s town administrator, “but we’re used to a lot of snow. We’re New Hampshire folks!”

Snowfall totals ranged between 18 inches in Springfield to 4-to-5 inches in parts of Sutton and Warner. The snow was heavy and wet, pulling down trees and tree limbs and dropping power lines, which caused electrical outages all over the area.

‘My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community.’

– Dan Ruggles, chief of Sunapee’s all-volunteer fire dept.

Eversource, the company that services most of the local area, reported close to 100,000 outages around the state between Monday evening (Nov. 22) when the storm began and early Wednesday evening (Nov. 24); more than 60 percent of those were north and west of Concord, an area that includes many Kearsarge/Sunapee towns, explained William Hinkle, a spokesman for the power company. By Friday afternoon (Nov. 30), no local outages were reported.

Officials with the Kearsarge Regional School District said that the towns hardest hit by the storm were in the district’s northernmost communities of Wilmot, Springfield and New London. All district schools were closed both Tuesday and Wednesday, due to poor road conditions and power outages. On Wednesday, electric power was out at the district’s elementary school in Bradford.

During the height of the storm, reports indicated that virtually all of New London and a major section of Wilmot were without electricity.

The storm generally dumped more snow than was predicted, making for long day for public works and safety staffs in local towns.

“Our shift started on Monday night at 9 p.m., and went right through to 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” said Bob Harrington, public works director for New London.

Officials in Newbury and other local towns reported similar long hours for their road crews.

“The town of Sunapee received about 12 inches of snow that was mixed with rain,” said David Cahill, that town’s police chief. “We had at one point eight roads closed due to wires and trees.”

Jim Bingham, Warner’s town administrator, said four roads in his town were inaccessible for several hours and Pixie Hill, the town clerk/tax collector in Springfield, reported a section of Rte. 114, the town’s main thoroughfare, was closed until late Wednesday morning.

Cal Prussman, Newbury’s highway administrator, said that Stoney Brook Road was closed for most of Tuesday, and that Bowles Road was closed to through traffic for several days. In addition, the 50-plus homes on Bay Point Road, a dead end off the Sunapee State Beach access road, were temporarily cut off from the rest of the town on Tuesday until storm damage could be cleared.

Harrington echoed the thoughts of several town public work managers throughout the area, commending the work of his staff while thanking local police and fire departments for their assistance in the emergency.

Dan Ruggles, Sunapee’s fire chief, said his volunteer department responded to 29 calls of wires down, trees on wires, blown transformers, car accidents and providing support for the town’s highway department clearing damage across roads between Monday night and Tuesday evening.

“My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community,” he added.

Ruggles and Cahill reported that Sunapee opened its safety service building as a warming station during the storm. “As a result, we did see a couple of residents take advantage of the safety service building,” Cahill said.

Throughout the storm and its aftermath, police officers did welfare checks on elderly folks and others who could be vulnerable during the outages, the police chief said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

Old firehouse, daycare proposal, economic development addressed

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – It was an informal conversation, but at a public meeting of Warner’s economic development advisory committee (EDAC) held in the town hall Thursday, Nov. 15, residents discussed ideas about what to do with the town’s old fire station.

The fire department will be moving into its modern facility around the end of this year, so the old brick building on Main Street will soon become vacant. Some residents have proposed selling the property which means it would be added to the town’s tax rolls while other suggest converting it into another community facility.

Among the most popular ideas raised at the recent meeting was using the old firehouse for a brewery or small restaurant, or developing it into a community and/or senior center.

Charlie Albano, EDAC’s chairman, said that he’s read about research that called daycare an ‘economic engine’ for a community.

The proposal that generated the liveliest discussion centered on creating a facility that would include some kind of daycare center. Emma Bates, a resident and local business owner who is part of the EDAC, said that she’s spoken to numerous young mothers in town who’ve expressed interest in a local daycare.

“The (Simonds Elementary) School has a Boys & Girls Club but there’s a lot of needs for younger children,” Bates told the group of about 30 people. “Until they reach school age, there’s nothing in town to send them to. A community center that includes a daycare space that could be used for preschool children (would be beneficial).”

Another resident said that a local licensed daycare would make Warner more attractive to younger people and Charlie Albano, EDAC’s chairman, said that he’s read about research that called daycare an “economic engine” for a community.

In addition, daycare facilities create demand for other local services, including food businesses, he said.

Another resident reported that the New Hampshire Telephone Musuem in town is planning to expand at its current Main Street location, which will impact the lower floor space now used by the Warner Firefighter Museum. She said she spoke with Ed Raymond, the fire chief, if he’d ever considered being at the old fire department station.

“I’d love to know if there is a significant firefighter museum in New Hampshire,” she added, “and, if there’s not, it could be a pretty tremendous opportunity.”

Albano said that the several local museums already attract tourists to Warner, and that his committee has learned about specific tourism communities that are now identified.

“It’s a huge, well-respected community,” the resident added, referring to firefighters and their supporters. “I think it (a state firefighter museum) would bring people to town.”

The discussion about the old firehouse was preceded by a presentation that Albano did about a recent town survey down by his committee. The survey is building on information gathered in earlier surveys to help identify ways that Warner could grow economically.

The new survey only gathered information from 136 respondents, which is less than 10-percent of the town’s population, but taken together with the earlier polls it does suggest certain kinds of businesses many people would like in their community, he said. Among specific options, small restaurants were the most popular, followed by small retail stores, and a medical or dental office, Albano reported.

Eighty percent of respondents favored increasing musical and other cultural events to attract tourists, and 70 percent said that programs like the Warner Fall Foliage Festival were an important part of the community.

Following the meeting, Albano said that the EDAC will be using the results of the new survey to help create a new town website and a new tourism brochure. When the website is completed, it will include the full survey results as well as two sections: one for economic development and one for a ‘Welcome to Warner’ tourism-focused page.

“We can also use the new website to advertise, for example, for a dentist and a restaurant,” Albano said. The EDAC hopes to have the new website established soon, he added.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 30, 2018.

 

Wave of resignations hit small NH town

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – Selectmen are dealing with resignations from four town hall employees in recent weeks, as well as a charge that they ignored an ongoing bullying problem between two workers.

On Friday, Nick Brodich, the chairman of the board of selectmen, said that Rhonda Gauthier, the departing town clerk/tax collector, claims that Nancy Bates, who recently resigned her position as town administrator, bullied her. Gauthier also says that the selectmen were aware of the situation but did nothing to resolve it, according to Brodich.

“The board of selectmen took serious issue with both of those accusations,” he said. “Especially that we were, to use her words, ‘sweeping things under the rug.’”

Sometime after the meeting, (Nancy) Bates submitted her own letter of resignation. She’s leaving her post as town administrator on December 7.

Brodich said that the selectmen were aware of some ongoing low-level tensions between Gauthier and Bates for the past year or two.

“It never really got to the point where (Gauthier) ever reached out to us, ever expressed any concerns,” he said. “It was not, in any way, brought to our attention.”

On September 5, the selectmen held their regular meeting in the town offices. As it was starting, Gauthier entered the room and handed her resignation letter and a packet of information to the selectmen and others attending the meeting. She then wished the selectmen a pleasant evening and left. Brodich said that he called out to her but the town clerk/tax collector apparently left the building quickly.

Neither the letter nor the packet was available at press time, but Brodich said they included the claims against Bates and the three-member board, and that Gauthier was planning to leave her position on Dec. 31.

“In her letter, she referenced the culture of bullying by (Bates) and then included a reference that the board of selectmen knew about it, that she’d been trying to tell the board of selectmen and that we weren’t hearing it,” Brodich said.

At Gauthier’s departure from the September 5 meeting, Brodich asked her assistant, Kathy LaVallee, the deputy town clerk/tax collector, if she was also planning to leave the town’s employ. LaVallee said she would be handing in her resignation with the same departure date, December 31.

According to the meeting minutes, Brodich then turned to Nikki Arsenault, an administrative and land use assistant for the town. Arsenault had resigned several weeks earlier shortly before a board meeting, effective immediately, and her resignation letter has not been made public.

The chairman asked Arsenault if she wanted to make any comment in light of Gauthier’s sudden departure. Arsenault said she’d hoped that “everyone could sit down and talk about this,” according to the minutes.

Brodich then declined a request to read Arsenault’s resignation letter into the public record. (There may be legal restrictions if it’s considered part of an employee’s personal file.)

Sometime after the meeting, Bates submitted her own letter of resignation. She’s leaving her post as town administrator on December 7, Brodich said.

At the next selectmen’s meeting on September 13, the board read an open letter that they wrote to Gauthier, saying that her actions at the previous meeting “though not lacking drama… lacked substance.”

“The accusations you have leveled against Town Administrator Bates are extremely serious and hurtful,” it reads. “The accusations you have leveled against the board of selectmen being derelict in its duties are likewise grave. To make such accusations in written correspondence and then refuse to meet with the people you have accused is as disrespectful as it is cowardly, and it is completely unbecoming an elected town official.”

Brodich reiterated the board’s willingness to meet with Gauthier and others who may have an interest in the situation.

On Friday, Brodich said he doubted Gauthier’s claim that Bates was a bully. “Anyone who knows Nancy Bates would laugh at loud at the concept of her bullying anyone,” he said. “She’s about a quiet and mild a person as you’ll find.”

Gautier and LaVallee have worked for the town for a decade or more, and Bates has been with the town for more than six years, according to Brodich. Arsenault is a newer employee, Brodich added.

Last week, Bates refused to comment on the situation. Attempts to reach Gauthier and Arsenault were unsuccessful, and LaVallee made no comment.

The town is now looking for a new town administrator and a new town clerk/tax collector.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 30, 2018.

NH Fish and Game Dept. wants to hold onto Wild Goose site on Lake Sunapee

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – At a public meeting last week, Glenn Normandeau, the executive director of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said that his office is looking at ways to leverage the state-owned Wild Goose property in Newbury in order to develop a public boat launch site on Lake Sunapee – even if Wild Goose is not where the facility is located.

Fish and game still prefers building its required launch on the Wild Goose land. However the agency is considering alternatives, including selling the land and purchasing another waterfront lot, or entering into an agreement with one or more local towns that would allow the pubic to use their municipally-owned launch sites.

Normandeau made his remarks to other members of the state’s 12-member Council on Resources and Development (CORD), which is part of the state’s office of strategic initiatives, at a meeting in the state’s department of education building on Thursday, Nov. 8. CORD is charged with facilitating interagency communications and cooperation relating to environmental, natural resources and growth management issues.

‘We cannot commit to any specific use or investments at this time, especially considering that we have tens of millions of deferred maintenance across the (state’s) parks system.’

– Sarah L. Stewart, commissioner of NH dept. of natural & cultural resources

At the meeting, Normandeau outlined the 20-years-plus history of his department’s efforts to provide a required public access facility for Lake Sunapee boaters, including two cases decided by the NH Supreme Court and numerous hearings before boards associated with the state’s department of environmental services.

“This (Wild Goose) project has been to CORD twice in the past, and twice CORD voted to support putting our boat ramp sites there,” the director said. “The property was purchased for this purpose, given to this agency for this purpose. And I have directions from both our commission, in a 11-0 vote, and the public water access advisory board, in a 9-1 vote, to try to retain control of the property.”

Fish and game’s management of the Wild Goose site is in now question after the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Development Commission, appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, issued a report recommending that the Newbury land be abandoned as a possible launch site and alternative uses for the land be considered. (One suggestion is that it be made into a state park controlled by the state’s department of natural and cultural resources.)

“We wish to retain the property, at the very least, pending an alternative site being found,” Normandeau told his fellow CORE members. “It would be unprecedented to removed a property from one agency that wants to retain it and give it to another. And, I would not consider that a great precedent… We have a strong feeling that it should not be transferred to another agency.”

Instead, the director said that the land could provide needed financial resources.

“We might consider going to the legislature to see if we can sell the property at fair market value and use the money as a start to getting the money we’d need,” to purchase an alternative piece of waterfront land and/or to cover cost related to developing a new launch facility, Normandeau explained.

(Typically, state-owned land deemed surplus by one department is transferred to another. The director said the state officially estimates that the 3.1-acre Wild Goose property would be worth $1.2-million on the open market.)

Normandeau also noted that because Wild Goose is known to be in the state’s public access land inventory, it serves to encourage local towns to consider allowing the public to use their town-operated launch sites. “It would behoove us to keep that property in the access program,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Sarah L. Stewart, the commissioner of the department of natural and cultural resources, said that while her agency had never requested management of the Wild Goose land, it would be obligated by statute to accept it if it were to be offered.

“It is important for me to include in our comments that developing, maintaining, managing and staffing property takes resources,” Stewart added. “We cannot commit to any specific use or investments at this time, especially considering that we have tens of millions of deferred maintenance across the parks system.”

CORD’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled for January 10. At that time, the committee is expected to review what could be next step regarding the Wild Goose land.

This story originally appeared  in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018.

 

Mink Hills poll highlights ATV complaints

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – According to a new survey, the majority of residents in the Mink Hills section of town are concerned about the increased use of ATVs and OHRVs in the area.

“Too many off-road vehicles, especially four-wheelers,” complained one resident in a feedback section of the survey.

“These vehicles have destroyed these roads and trails,” wrote another. “They drive over at fast speeds, splashing out the dirt with the water and leaving great sinkholes on the roads.”

“The current activity (level) is excessive,” wrote another. “There are times when great hordes of these four-wheeled trucks, covered in mud, come blasting past my house. They have just trashed the place.”

“I believe OHRV/ATV riding destroys the natural environment,” commented another. “And the noise level is unacceptable.”

The survey was crafted by the Friends of Mink Hills, a local nonprofit organization that includes representatives from Warner, Bradford, Hopkinton and Hillsborough, as well as staff with the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission (CNHPC). The seven-question survey was mailed to 120 property owners that have land abutting a Class VI road in Warner; Class VI roads are typically dirt roads the town doesn’t maintain (i.e., pave, plow, etc.). Forty-seven respondents returned their surveys, according to Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner.

‘When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say (some non-club) riders don’t obey the rules…The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules.’

– Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner

Tufts said that in the summer of 2017, some local people approached the CNHPC about problems in the neighborhood. “The Mink Hills region was very important to them and they had concerns over who was managing the (recreational) use in those areas,” he said. The residents wanted the CNHPC involved because they considered the ATV/OHRV challenges a regional problem, he explained.“So, the idea is: four towns, one region.’ … We’re all alike. We should step back and look at what’s going on, and ask, what are the solutions?’”

Mink Hills, which includes the town-owned Chandler Reservation as well as the state’s Chandler-Harriman and Ashandon forests, is made up of more than 15,000 acres, a patchwork of private and public lands, located mostly in Warner (although it also includes land in Henniker and the three other communities).

The area has both environmental and historical importance. It includes a 4.9-mile trail loop near South Sutton, as well as numerous other trails that are utilized for a variety of recreational activities, including mountain-biking and horseback riding. According to the survey, most local landowners especially enjoy hiking, walking and snowshoeing in the Mink Hills.

Complaints about ATV/OHRV use in the area has risen in recent years after both Warner and Hopkinton ease restrictions on their Class VI roads, allowing for increased use by the recreational vehicles. Mink Hills residents say that the motorized machines create unacceptable noise levels, stir up dust, and seriously damage the trails; in addition, some riders disregard local rules and damage private property.

Nancy Martin is a member of the town’s conservation commission but got involved with the issue as a private citizen after hearing some local complaints. (The commission mailed out the recent survey, but it has decided not to get directly involved with the controversial issues.) She’s attended some meetings of the Friends of Mink Hills group, and reported that representatives of the NH fish and game department and local ATV clubs were also invited.

“When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say of riders who don’t obey the rules: ‘They upset us as much as they upset you,’” Tufts noted. “The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules. Some blatantly disregard them. They wander into (private owners) fields.”

But to Bill Dragon, president of the Bound Tree ATV Club of Warner and Hopkinton, the Friends of Mink Hills appear to be interested only in instituting more restrictions on ATV and OHRV activities. (The survey reports 67-percent of respondents favored restrictions on some roads, while 45-percent supported seasonal restrictions on ATV/OHRV use.)

“What’s not in (the survey) is what these (club) people do to keep those trails open,” Dragon said, explaining how clubs like his put in hours tending and clearing the recreational trails.

“We’ve tried to focus on the areas where there are these problems,” Dragon said, referring to conversation club members had at recent meetings with the Friends. “We had a map, and said, let’s look at where the majority of the complaints come from. We think we know where they are, but let’s look at it… We’ve (also) talked about trail relocations and other things,” he said.

Unfortunately, it’s been tough for the club members and the Friends of Mink Hills to agree on exactly how the issues can be resolved.

And that’s what Tufts, Martin and others are hoping to do. They want to create a strategic plan that outlines how ATV/OHRV use in the Mink Hills can be effectively maintained and policed – one that’s supported by most people living in and using the Mink Hills trails, and that can be used as a framework for town regulations.

But Dragon says that it’s difficult to get there when the local survey doesn’t even reflect the view of most people who live in and use the Mink Hills, simply because it was restricted to Warner landowners.

“We have about 50 members and many own property in the Mink Hills area,” Dragon said. “We’ve got members all the way up and down Bound Tree Road (in Hopkinton).

“I think if you asked the people that are using these public access roads – and that’s what they are, public roads – if you asked them (to participate), if they were added to the survey, they would far outnumber the number of people they now have on the survey,” the club president said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Selectman fires back at former town employee

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The chairman of the town’s board of selectman is disputing recent remarks made by a former town clerk who claimed that an inhospitable work environment exists among town employees.

Kimberley Brown Edelmann, who became chairman of the three-person board at the beginning of the year, made her remarks at the board’s Oct. 24 meeting in the town hall. She said that critical remarks made by Judy Newman-Rogers, the long-time clerk who resigned several weeks ago, were related to an employee-related issue that dated back to 2015. “Apparently the select boards (past and current) did not take the action the town clerk wanted,” the chairman said.

Brown Edelmann also addressed management-related issues, noting that ‘documentation is critical’ whenever a manager has a ‘problem employee.’

Brown Edelmann directly refuted Newman-Rogers’s charge that town hall has developed a “hostile, unpleasant and dysfunctional environment” for employees in recent years.

“In my experience (working at two temporary town positions), I can honestly say that I found everyone in the town hall staff, without exception, to be welcoming, helpful, and always aiming to do a good job serving the Town of Warner and its citizens,” she said. “I enjoyed the work experiences so much, I recommended the Warner Town Hall as a potential place of employment to two of my friends. I would never have done that if I thought it was an unpleasant work environment.”

In early October, Newman-Rogers announced her resignation at a board meeting. In a letter addressed to the selectmen and read aloud, she said that “requests for resolution to (problem) situations made known to the town administrator (i.e., Jim Bingham) and the board of selectmen have gone unaddressed.

“Previous administrative traits of transparency, trust, honesty, lawfulness, communication, integrity, accountability and equal application of policy and procedure have been supplanted with deflection, delay, denial, disrespect, dismissals, discrimination and blatant division of personnel,” according to Newman-Roger.

She later told the InterTown Record that she believed that “the town administrator (Bingham) is the problem.”

At the Oct. 24 meeting, Brown Edelmann said that shortly after she took office in 2017, Newman-Rogers handed her an envelope, stating that the contents contained information about a situation dating back to 2015 and that “previous select boards had failed to address… She said she hoped I would look into and take appropriate action,” the chairman recounted.

“As a new selectman, I was given access to the full set of documents regarding the issue,” Brown Edelmann continued. “ I learned that an investigation was done. I learned what legal advice was given. I read what action was taken. And, from what I could see, the issue was closed.

“I will say no more on that subject,” she said.

Brown Edelmann then addressed management-related issues, noting that “documentation is critical” whenever a manager has a “problem employee.”

“Our town administrator (Bingham) was hired in 2013,” the chairman said. “He has not had any performance reviews. He has received verbal feedback, both complimentary and in the form of constructive criticism. But no formal appraisals. He has received wage increases and his contract has been renewed.”

Brown Edelmann then offered her personal thanks to Bingham. “I see the work you do,” she told him. “I’m impressed at the sheer volume and variety of issues and problems you address in your daily work. I appreciate your integrity and your calm management style. And of course, I’m thankful that you keep the select board focused on the work we should be doing.”

Neither Clyde Carson nor John Dabuliewicz, the other selectmen, made any remarks related to their chairman’s statement or to Newman-Rogers’ resignation.

Late last week, Newman-Rogers responded to Brown Edelmann’s statement. She said that the chairman may not have seen any hostility when she was working in town hall because, as a selectman, she’s unwittingly supporting it.

The former employee also said that the current and past boards have taken actions that are inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal. “The selectmen are ignorant and so is town administrator (Bingham), who is supposed to be guiding them,” she charged.

“What’s going on there, it has to stop,” Newman-Rogers concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on November 6, 2018.

Public trust is central to new Sunapee access legal appeal

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – A group of sports enthusiasts’ organizations and interested private citizens have filed a new appeal to the state’s decision to deny a wetlands building permit that would have allowed the construction of a public boat access facility on Lake Sunapee.

In papers submitted to the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport on Oct. 10, William Howard Dunn, the attorney representing the groups, reaches back to the English common law that is the basis for the American judicial system and even ancient Roman law.

Those systems support the idea that some properties – like New Hampshire’s lakes – are held in a “pubic trust” by the state government. “(As) stewards of public waters, the state safeguards the right to use and enjoy public waters,” he quotes from a previous case; Dunn also notes state statues that direct the state to “control the use of public waters and the adjacent shoreline for the greatest public benefit.”

The attorney quotes from a 60-year-old Gilmanton lawsuit… and from  a California case that found that members of the public ‘have standing to sue to protect the public trust.’

The issue of public access to Sunapee has been debated for more than 20 years. For some time, the state ‘s department of environmental services (DES) and its fish and game departments sought to build a facility to comply with the legal mandate that reasonable access be available to everyone. In 1990 the state purchased the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury and developed plans to construct a facility there.

But legal challenges from both the town and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association delayed the project for years. The opponents say there is sufficient public access to the lake (although not a state-owned/operated facility), and that dangerous traffic problems on Rte. 103 would result from using the Wild Goose land.

After years of administrative, legislative and court-related wrangling, it looked like the Wild Goose site would be developed. Then Gov. Chris Sununu announced last year that he was pulling the plug on the project because it had lingered unfinished for so long, causing widespread discord in the community. The move was opposed by the NH fish and game department but, not long afterwards, the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) denied a request from fish and game official to extend it wetlands building permit for the site; for years, the five-year building allowance had been approved several times previously.

The local sport organizations (including the Sullivan County Sportsmen, the NH Bass Federation and the Mountain View Gun Club) joined with Gary Clark, author of The New Hampshire Fishing Guide, and others asking the DES to reconsider its ruling. But an officer with the DES’s wetlands board dismissed their appeal, stating that the groups lacked legal standing to question the decision.

Last August, Dunn filed the sports groups’ initial request, asking the court to overturn the state’s actions and force it to move ahead with building a public access facility on the Wild Goose land. At that time, he argued principally that the state had acted incorrectly and in opposition to its own legal responsibilities, bowing to political pressure.

In his latest filing, Dunn focuses more on the state’s actions based on long-standing legal precedents, as well as its own laws and regulations.

“By law, the nature of these things (that) are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea” are part of the public trust, he writes, quoting from a lawsuit filed by the National Audubon Society in California in 1983.

“This rule, that such land are held by the state in trust for the public at large applies to all states, as it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Dunn adds. “New Hampshire came to hold the public trust in its waters and shoreline when it joined the union” (in 1776).

The attorney also quotes from a 60-year-old lawsuit filed in Gilmanton to illustrate that New Hampshire courts have recognized that common law rights are applicable to “private individuals.” The California case also found that members of the public “have standing to sue to protect the public trust.”

“The denial of the (wetlands building) extension is a breach of trust by the public trust,” Dunn concludes. “By refusing to grant the wetlands permit, the (state) has violated its own duty under, not just under (state) law but also under common law under the public trust doctrine.”

The legal filing asks the court to order the DES to grant the fish and game’s wetlands building permit extension to August 28, 2022, and to allow the sportsmen organizations to continue to be considered in future actions under the “public trust” doctrine.

In response, DES’s legal team did not object to the new filing, but it argued that the case had already been decided. In addition, the group said that it would appeal the court’s decision if the ruling goes against the agency.

At this time, there’s no indication when the court will issue its final ruling.

This story originally ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

 

 

Town clerk quits, cites bad work environment

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town’s long-time town clerk, Judy Newman-Rogers, has resigned her position, charging that town leaders have allowed a “hostile, unpleasant and dysfunctional environment” to develop at town hall.

In a 337-word letter addressed to the board of selectmen and dated Oct. 1, the departing clerk is critical of both the three-member elected board and Jim Bingham, the town administrator, for not addressing ongoing problems.

“Unfortunately, requests for resolution to situations made known to the town administrator and the board of selectmen have gone unaddressed,” it reads. “Previous administrative traits of transparency, trust, honesty, lawfulness, communication, integrity, accountability and equal application of policy and procedure have been supplanted with deflection, delay, denial, disrespect, dismissals, discrimination and blatant division of personnel.”

‘The selectmen are not doing anything about it. And it’s effecting employees and the townspeople.’

 – Judy Newman-Rogers, Warner (NH) Town Clerk

In phone and text communications on Sunday, Newman-Rogers said the selectmen have failed to properly manage Bingham, which has resulted in problems with town employees, communications and procedural issues.

“It’s financial – that would cover quite a bit of it, the finances of the town,” she said. “But it’s also that the board of selectmen have to make sure that the laws are followed and our privacy is kept (protected). There’s security for different things. Employee dissatisfaction, low morale and the biases… The favoritism is huge.

“It’s been a long time now that the select board has been ignoring what’s going on in the (town) office with employee situations, and things that are going on that shouldn’t be,” Newman-Rogers said. “The selectmen are not doing anything about it. And it’s effecting employees and the townspeople.”

The departing clerk specifically pointed the finger at Bingham, saying that “the town administrator is the problem.”

(Jim Bingham, the town administrator, did not respond to requests for an interview during the weekend.)

“I don’t want to go to a selectmen’s meeting and hear that the selectmen are surprised by an issue I’m dealing with,” Newman-Rogers said. “I don’t want the town administrator to say, we’ll bring this to the selectmen’s meeting and then it doesn’t happen.

“We need transparency, and when information is public it should be provided without question, and when it’s supposed to be,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any roadblocks and stops put up when people request information. I think that’s not good for our town.

“I think communications with the public is very important,” the departing clerk said. “That needs to be improved. And when people are trying to improve that, they shouldn’t be given a hard time about it.”

On Saturday, Kimberly Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the board of selectmen, and Clyde Carson, another board member, said that they’ve been aware of tensions among some town employees for awhile now but they were caught off-guard when Newman-Rogers read her resignation letter aloud during the public input session of last week’s meeting. “We did not see this coming,” the chairman said. “I even said that at the meeting: ‘I didn’t see that coming.’”

Brown Edelmann said she doesn’t know what specific situations the town clerk was referencing in her letter because the information was “not specific enough.”

“The board still has to sort this out,” said Carson. “I think the board is going to hear more about that (i.e., the situations).”

Neither of the selectmen would comment on any situations that Newman-Rogers referenced in her letter, saying that they are legally restrained from discussing personnel issues in public.

Newman-Rogers concluded her letter with regrets about any problems that her departure may cause the town.

“It has been an honor and privilege to have served the residents of Warner as deputy town clerk and then as town clerk for the past 24 years,” she wrote. “I am truly grateful for the trust, support and confidence they have had in me.”

Brown Edelmann said the selectmen were grateful for the departing clerk’s years of service to Warner. “I certainly hope that she finds a situation that makes her feel less stressed, and whatever else she’s looking for,” she added.

Newman-Rogers will officially leave her position at the end of this week on Friday, Oct. 13; town hall is closed Fridays so her actual last day on the job is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12.

This story originally ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.

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