Raymond Community News

State Rep. Hoelzel Threatens Raymond Board of Selectmen with Lawsuit
by Cheryl Killam 10-28-14 Updated 11-1-14 and included below in bold.

During the Raymond Board of Selectmen’s meeting Monday, Oct. 27, 2014 State Representative Kathleen Hoelzel  spoke during public comment to threaten that she would file an  injunctive relief petition with the court against the selectmen if they did not rescind their vote to open sealed minutes from 2011.  She said that the current board does not have authority to unseal minutes sealed by a prior board during a non-public meeting.

Hoelzel said she was speaking as a citizen but referred to her role as Town Moderator and State Representative.

Her comments refer to a decision by the current Board of Selectmen to go into non-public session and open sealed minutes, based on a Right to Know request submitted by  Leslie O’Donnell, who  was removed from the conservation commission along with Cody Cramer and Jan Kent on June 20, 2011 for “cause.”

O’Donnell had previously asked the board of selectmen to unseal the minutes from the June 20, 2011 meeting so that she might learn the reason she was removed.

The current selectmen voted on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014 to unseal the minutes in a non-public meeting  on a vote of 4-1, with Selectman Bill Hoitt opposed and saying he would not recuse himself, although he was a member of the previous Board of Selectmen and participated in the removal.

Hoelzel said, “Before setting a precedent and possibly being in violation of the law can you cite me the RSA that gives you the permission to open non-public meeting minutes of another board?  It is not allowed under the law.  I have been involved in more than one lawsuit over Right to Know law. We need to watch that law so we don't violate it.

 “There is no legal way that you can open non-public minutes of another board,” she claimed. “If you go forward to open minutes of another board I will file an injunction because it’s necessary to protect the town. I will further submit legislation to prohibit such actions. The remedy for the person requesting the information of non-public  is through the judicial system.  You are doing an injustice to the people, the law and the system if you open those minutes.  I ask that you rescind your vote of last week and do more research before you make a decision.“ 

NH Municipal Association (NHMA) formerly Local Government Center states " Yes a board member who wasn't on the board when the minutes were created can look at them. Subject to any rules of procedure that may be adopted by the board, there is no requirement that only members who were actually on the board when the nonpublic session was held are able to review the minutes. All board members must take the oath of office required by RSA 42:1 and, thus, all members have an obligation not to divulge the contents of sealed nonpublic-session meeting minutes, whether or not they were at the meeting. And, as previously noted, a new member may be involved with making decisions that involve information received in prior nonpublic sessions. Article 341

The minutes of non-public meetings dated May 9, June 13, June 20 and June 30, 2011 were all sealed by the selectmen after resident Gary Brown filed a complaint on May 6, 2011 with the selectmen to request that they remove six members from the conservation commission for allegedly violating the commission by-laws by signing citizen petitions. The six members were O’Donnell, Kent, Cramer, Barbara Edgar, June Dickerson and chairman Cheryl Killam.

Brown appeared at the May 4, 2011 Conservation Commission meeting  to say that the six commissioners had violated Article VI Section B:1:b  “Conflict of Interest” of the bylaws and demanded their resignation. Brown was told by vice chairman Kent the commission would take his claim under advisement.

The bylaws state that "the remaining members of the Conservation Commission shall request the Selectmen to remove the offending  member or offending alternate member  from the Cons Com as soon as possible." Brown was not a member of the conservation commission. 

Dickerson resigned. O’Donnell, Cramer and Kent were removed by the selectmen on June 20, 2011, while Edgar was retained on the commission on that date by the selectmen, all following a non-public session. Kent, O’Donnell, and Cramer received certified letters dated June 20, 2011 announcing their removal “for cause.”

Hoelzel told the selectmen, "if a person enters a non-public session and the minutes are sealed, and if that person is aware they are sealed, they are sealed for a reason." However, the three, as well as Edgar, were not invited to nor were present at the non-public meeting.

Non-public meeting minutes are sealed with the purpose of protecting  someone’s reputation, other than a member of the board holding the hearing,  if made public. NHMA Article 341 states "When the decision to seal the minutes is made, the board has a continuing obligation to ensure that once those conditions for sealing no longer exist, the minutes are unsealed and made available for public inspection. Article 341

Killam, against whom the selectmen had earlier levied a complaint, was told the reason for her June 13, 2011 removal, and successfully sued the Town. The Rockingham Superior Court decision, in Case 218-2011-CV-00741, stated the Board of Selectmen violated Killam’s constitutional rights by not allowing her requested public hearing pursuant to RSA 36. She was reinstated on the Commission.

O’Donnell  filed the first Right To Know request on June 22, 2011, two days after the decision, and sent it to  interim Town Manager Pat Bower to obtain the minutes of any non-public  sessions concerning a complaint against her.  After her request was unanswered, she sent the request again to Town Manager Craig Wheeler after he was hired.

On Sept. 26, 2011, her Right to Know request was discussed by the Board of Selectmen in public session. Selectman Bill Hoitt said, according to the official minutes of that meeting, that “the non-public meeting minutes from the June 20, 2011 (meeting) shouldn’t be released, due to litigation purposes.” On a motion by Frank Bourque, the board voted 4-0 to seal those minutes with Bourque, Hoitt, Lee Weldy and Peter Buckingham voting to not release them. Selectman Tim Auclair, who was not in favor of the board’s actions against the members of the conservation commission, resigned from the board. O’Donnell was not involved in any litigation at that time or since then.

O’Donnell  said she filed  another Right To Know request this fall hoping that the new board of selectmen would open the sealed minutes so that she could at last find out why she was removed.  

Hoelzel's statements can be seen and heard on RCTV at   Raymond Board Of Selectmen's Meeting 10-27-2014 

In the interest of full disclosure Cheryl Killam owns Raymond Area News and Leslie O’Donnell is the contributing editor.

















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