Non-public meetings and Winnipesaukee Drive

Some of you may recall the activity in the Fall when the residents of Winnipesaukee Drive petitioned the Board of Selectmen to lay out their road with the intent of getting it repaired and accepted as a town road.  At all of the public meetings, the initial meeting on Oct 16, 2013, the follow up public hearing on Nov 20, and the subsequent dropping of the issue on Dec 4, the place was packed with just about all of the residents of that development.

They were engaged and wanted to be there to promote their cause as it was considered by the Selectmen.  They wanted to be there, listen to what was being said, plead their case to the town.  You know – participate in open government. I bet they thought they did just that.

As it happens I was at a meeting of the BOS after that initial meeting on Oct 16, I believe it was Nov 6, at the end when the Selectmen voted to enter non-public session.  I know the drill, so I gathered my stuff and left.  Shortly after getting to my car, I realized that I had left my jacket inside and dashed back in through the side door to retrieve it.  When I entered, I made myself obvious and said I was getting my jacket.

To my amazement, the Selectmen, and that is all of them, were sitting around discussing Winnipesaukee Drive.  I lingered as they continued, each stating their opinion in turn and some declaring what they will or won’t support.  I eventually left, still feeling somewhat uncomfortable being present during a non-public session.

The purpose of that non-public session was stated to be litigation.  Not only were they improperly meeting in private to discuss Winnipesaukee Drive, they seemed to be completely unaware of how grossly improper that was, and what an injustice that is to the efforts and intentions of the residents of Winnipesaukee Drive.

As I sat at the public hearing two weeks later, I recall thinking how utterly clueless these residents were that their issue was a done deal.  They were all taking their turn to speak to an issue that had already been hashed out in private.

I call on the board to unseal the minutes of that discussion, if in fact they even kept minutes of that discussion.  They may claim it was incidental conversation, and it was casual in that they were not all seated around the table in the usual fashion.  But they were all together, listening to each other, and my recollection is that most of them took a turn.  That’s a meeting in my book and the information was substantial.

After my experience, I can’t believe that was an isolated incident.  Especially given the near complete lack of public discussion of so many important issues.  Like voting a no-bid ambulance contract with a 13% increase, with the primary reason given that they wanted to spare the company”s employees the anxiety of the bidding process.

There are ground rules to open government.  Many of you may think it’s pedantic to require everything be done by the letter of the law.  The truth is that it’s easy to follow the law, they know and understand the law, and there is no benefit to circumventing it unless you feel you are above it.  What do you think?  Will you be the next naive Winnipesaukee Drive resident? Do you think that Winnipesaukee Drive was an isolated incident or do you think that once the public is ushered out, they roll up their sleeves and talk about whatever they want?

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