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Raymond Community News


Conservation Chair Publicly Accuses Selectman Chair of Ethics Violation
By Penny Williams 10-22-15

The Raymond Conservation Commission meeting of Oct. 14, 2015 erupted in accusations by chairman Lorrie O’Connor alleging interference and an ethics code violation against Selectman Chair Greg Bemis, and interference by the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board and resident Cheryl Killam over the issue of seating alternates, an issue that remains unresolved.

Bemis, Killam and Planning Board chairman Carolyn Matthews were not present at the meeting.

The attack came under the agenda item “Seating of Alternates in the Absence of Regular Members.” The Commission has two alternates, Kathy Lee and former longtime Commission member Jan Kent.

O’Connor introduced the agenda item by accusing Bemis of interfering in the functioning of Commission business and further accused him of a Code of Ethics violation, stating he had a conflict of interest.

O'Connor also said both the Planning Board and Cheryl Killam, owner of Raymond Area News and a former longtime Conservation Commission member, had interfered with the functioning of Commission business by their involvement with the issue of seating alternates.

O'Connor said the Commission, which functions in an advisory capacity to the Board of Selectmen, does not work for the selectmen and the selectmen do not have the authority "to direct or compel" the Commission to do anything. She also said neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Planning Board have the authority to call a joint session without the agreement of the Conservation Commission.

She said neither the selectmen nor the Planning Board have any authority to interfere with the ongoing functions of the Commission and added that the seating of Commission alternates is none of those boards’ business. The Board of Selectmen appoints commission members and alternates.

O’Connor accused Bemis of a violation of the Raymond Code of Ethics because he allegedly interfered with the Conservation Commission by appointing Kathy Lee as an alternate when she is his domestic partner. O'Connor quoted the Raymond Code of Ethics as it defines “Conflict of Interest” and “Recusal” (see below). According to the video of the meeting where the nomination and vote took place, Bemis disclosed his relationship with Lee.  Precedent exists with then-Selectman Lee Weldy serving on the board of selectmen when his wife, Sharon Weldy was appointed to the commission, and then-Selectman Peter Buckingham serving on the board when his wife, Lorrie O’Connor, was appointed to the commission.   

The Raymond Ethics Code calls for an accuser to first raise the ethics violation question at the board on which the person sits, which would be the Board of Selectmen for Bemis. O’Connor did not do so prior to making her accusation Oct. 14.

O'Connor claimed the Planning Board interfered in Conservation Commission functions when its chair, Carolyn Matthews, asked that the Board of Selectmen appoint a one time emergency alternate and called for a joint meeting. O'Connor added that Kent had asked to be on the selectmen’s agenda to complain about not being seated as an alternate, and said the Commission had not been notified that this was to take place (see selectmen meeting summary, below).

She alleged that the Board of Selectmen’s putting Kent on the selectmen’s agenda for its Sept. 28 meeting was an "intentional violation of the ConCom 's integrity" and noted that Kent also raised the issue of the absences of Commission member Scott Greenwood.

Commission bylaws state: " If a member of the ConCom is absent for three (3) consecutive meetings without notice and/or just cause, the remaining members of the ConCom shall request the Selectmen to remove the offending member from the ConCom as soon as possible."

O'Connor said Kent's actions were “not right” and suggested both the Planning Board and the selectmen should reflect on the Code of Ethics definition of Fair Dealing (see below).

O'Connor then stated, "My question to Jan, Kathy and (full member) Bernie Peer is this: can you work with the rest of this committee in a cooperative and positive manner for the benefit of the citizens, as opposed to cooperating with the interference of the Board of Selectmen, Cheryl Killam and now the Planning Board? We have to work with each other until next May when re-appointments are due, so can we do it cooperatively and positively." Re-appointments are due in April.

Lee asked for an example of a specific incident when she had not cooperated with the Conservation Commission and Peer registered his unhappiness with being asked the question about working with others, saying he had never failed to cooperate. He accused O'Connor of canceling meetings when certain members were unavailable and said that when regular members are not present, alternates should be seated.

Conservation member William Hoitt said going to the selectmen to get seated was going out of the chain of command and claimed the Commission doesn't have to seat alternates unless a regular member is absent.

Peer reiterated that when a regular board member is absent, an alternate should be seated to make up the full seven member board, rather than doing what happens typically - only a quorum of four regular members are seated, regardless of whether alternates are present.

Kent said she went to the selectmen for feedback, not to complain. She said she has raised the same issue at Conservation Commission meetings, asking for O'Connor to contact Greenwood to find out his intentions, but that has not happened. She said she is frustrated that the Commission is not addressing agenda items when a great deal needs to be done.

Conservation member Martin Devine agreed the Commission needs to get things done but claimed that seating of alternates is at the discretion of the chair. Kent responded that the Commission should be seating alternates, including them and making them welcome, as was done in the past.

Lee pointed out the Town voted for Conservation to have seven members on the board and that the quorum of four is the minimum allowed to conduct business. She said when members are absent and alternates are available, they should be seated.

Not to do so has created a perception that O'Connor wants to control the outcome of votes and is afraid Lee and Kent won't agree with her, Lee said.

Lee added that she is on the Commission to learn and is not upset at not being seated, but is upset that Kent is not seated, as she brings 19 years of Commission experience. She said the failure to seat Kent is insulting.

O'Connor said all members are treated equally. When Lee said she had not received an answer to her question about how she had allegedly acted uncooperatively, member Frank Bishop motioned for adjournment, and O'Connor seconded the motion.

Sept. 28, 2015 Board of Selectmen Meeting Regarding Kent

The minutes from the Board of Selectmen's meeting of Sept. 28 state that Kent asked to be placed on the agenda and thanked the Board for responding so quickly to her request. “Ms. Kent stated her concerns about alternates and the current practice by the Chair of the Conservation Commission regarding not consistently seating the alternates when the full member board is not present,” the minutes say. “The Chair on a couple of occasions has seated alternates, but now the Chair has on several occasions chosen not to seat the alternates when a quorum of full members is present at the meetings according to the Conservation Bylaws. The purpose of coming before the Board of Selectmen is to solicit feedback on the Board of Selectmen’s thoughts, intentions and expectations when appointing alternates.

Kent also brought to the Board’s attention Warrant Article 20 in 1990, Conservation Commission, “to see if the Town will vote to authorize the appointment of seven members and seven alternate members of the Conservation Commission in accordance with the maximum voting membership allowed by RSA 36:A,” and noted the full-time position of Greenwood, who she said has missed five of the last seven meetings.

The minutes show that Selectwoman Colleen West-Coates asked if anyone on the Conservation Commission made a motion for the removal of Greenwood or to move him to an alternate, and Kent said she had brought up his absenteeism at a past meeting and suggested contacting him to see if he were still interested in being a full-time member, but nothing had been done. She also noted she could not make a motion because she is not a full member, but planned on having the Chair put it on the next agenda.”

The item was placed on the agenda for the Oct. 14 Conservation Commission meeting (see above), but the meeting was adjourned before it could be addressed.

According to the Sept. 28 selectmen’s minutes, Selectman Jonathan Wood stated that when he votes to appoint alternates or members to a board, his expectation is that when there is an opportunity for an alternate to be seated in the absence of a full member, the Board should take advantage of that and seven full members should be seated at every meeting. The minutes also note that Bemis was in full agreement with Wood and thought the Commission’s action was disrespectful to all alternates who volunteer their time to show up at meetings.

The minutes also state that West-Coates asked O’Connor to explain her reasoning for not seating alternates, and O’Connor responded that alternates have full participation, except when it comes to voting, as she always has a quorum of full members present.

The minutes say West-Coates asked again for the rationale for not seating alternates, and O’Connor responded that she speculated her position as chair was being questioned, and asked if the conversation could be brought up in a private session, as she was not comfortable sharing it in a public meeting.

O’Connor said, according to the selectmen’s minutes, that the reason she didn’t care to respond at that time was that individual issues were involved and she didn’t consider it the proper venue to air “dirty laundry and name names."

The minutes show Selectman Jack Barnes agreed with Wood and said that as chair, O’Connor is within her legal rights to do what she is doing, but using alternates that the Board of Selectmen appointed would be beneficial. His suggestion, as he has stated before, is to make changes at the legislative level and have the positions elected.

Raymond Code of Ethics

• "Conflict of Interest: A situation, circumstance, or financial interest that has the potential to cause a private or personal interest to interfere with the proper exercise of a public duty...We expect public servants to remove themselves from decision making if they have a conflict of interest or even the appearance of one."

• Recuse: "Removing or excusing oneself from participating in a specific action or discussion due to a conflict of interest. Recusal means to remove oneself completely from all further participation as a public servant in the matter in question."

• "Fair dealing/nondiscrimination. (1) Each public servant should endeavor to deal fairly with members of the public, suppliers and fellow public servants and may not be influenced by such person's work for or gifts made to the Town. None should take unfair advantage of anyone through manipulation, concealment, abuse of privileged information, misrepresentation of material facts, or any other unfair-dealing practice."

 

To watch and listen to the Conservation Commission meeting, click on Agenda Item "Seating Alternates" on 10-14-15 and move the slide down to 1:45 and watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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