Town Administrator John Anderson was removed from paid administrative leave and placed on unpaid administrative leave until the Town Council completes its own inquiry into charges that have led to an arrest warrant for Anderson by the New Hampshire State Police.
A five-week investigation by the State Police, concluding on Friday, Aug. 16, charged Anderson with “lewd and lascivious behavior,” a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine and a maximum sentence of 12 months in the Rockingham County House of Correction.
An arrest warrant for Anderson was issued by the State Police, after the matter had been referred to the County Attorney’s office, and is for two counts of “Indecent Exposure and Lewdness,” both misdemeanors.
The Council held a special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 20, to discuss the situation. After the two-hour meeting Chairman Michael Fairbanks announced that Anderson would remain on administrative leave but without pay, pending the results of the Council inquiry, and that all further information on the case would be handled through Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau.
The meeting was held under RSA 91-A:3, a New Hampshire statute on nonpublic sessions. The Council scheduled a nonpublic meeting because of “the dismissal, promotion or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him or her, unless the employee affected (1) has a right to a meeting and (2) requests that the meeting be open, in which case the request shall be granted; and c, “Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person, other than a member of the public body itself, unless such person requests an open meeting.”
The Council voted 6-1 to go into the nonpublic session. Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said, “I’m going to vote no. It is a personnel matter, but in this case, I think the public has a right to know.” When the votes for nonpublic outnumbered her, Katsakiores said with a shrug, “I guess we’re going in.”
In a phone call later that week, Katsakiores said, “I just felt the public has the right to know. We’ve met so many times behind closed doors, and the public is curious.”
The case has been all over television and newspapers, Katsakiores said, and “I’d like the taxpayers to be able to come and ask questions.”
While Budreau has done “a great job” of handling the information, she said, “I don’t like the idea that we can’t talk about it.” Katsakiores said she feared that sometimes the “personnel matter” can be used as an out. “The Legislature should look into it – maybe it’s being abused,” she said.
Councilor Al Dimmock did not agree.” If we’re to decide something about Mr. Anderson, the decision cannot be made in public,” he said. He prefers that sensitive material be discussed privately before being disseminated to the public.
“We can’t go off half-cocked,” he said. “We have to understand what we’re doing.”
Councilor Mark Osborne said Katsakiores “had the right sentiment” about the public interest. But in this setting and under employment law, there is potential for litigation for things said publicly.
Further, Osborne said, “All the Councilors must work together as a team to provide the right solution. We can’t do that in a public setting.”
Councilor Thomas Cardon said, “I just think it’s a private personnel issue. His rights should be protected, and that’s why we keep it private.” Katsakiores said she understood the legal ramifications of speaking openly about the case. “We could be called as witnesses,” she said, but added that she would like to put some of the rumors to rest, noting, “This is what happens when people don’t have information.”
A timetable for inquiry
When the Council emerged from the executive session, Fairbanks announced the results.
A resolution was passed that Anderson’s paid administrative leave cease on Aug. 20, 2013, the date of the meeting, pending the results of the Town Council inquiry, and that he be placed on unpaid administrative leave. Fairbanks said the vote on this resolution was 7-0. A motion by the Council also kept Budreau as the sole spokesperson on the matter.
After the meeting, Budreau said the timetable for the inquiry would take the Council into September. He said he has spoken with Anderson. Anderson has been on paid administrative leave since July 12, when the Town Council met in an emergency meeting after a citizen complained about an incident involving Anderson and a DirecTV salesman at Anderson’s Lane Road home allegedly taking place Thursday, July 11.
Captain David Parenteau of the State Police Investigative Services Bureau said Anderson has not been formally charged with the crime. He said Anderson has been in Maine and his attorney has been on vacation, and the State Police are coordinating with Anderson and his attorney to find a time and date to serve the warrant.
As long as it takes
Community members along with a former County Attorney said while the investigation has taken more than a month, it’s worth it to be accurate. Bill Hart, Londonderry police chief and former County Attorney, said, “We want to treat everyone the same when we investigate a case. But each case has specific issues.”
Hart added, “Some cases, with some degree of celebrity, do take a little bit longer.” State Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry, reached on vacation in Alaska, said, “Mr. Anderson is a high-profile figure, and they have to be careful not to do anything that would sully his reputation.”
Conservation Chairman Margaret Ives said she was “okay” with the privacy. “I was in personnel during my career, and I understand that there are some matters that need to be private,” Ives said.
She’s also OK with the process. “These things take a while,” Ives said. “We need to be patient, and let whatever happens, happen.”
School Board chairman Brenda Willis said she did not think Anderson was getting special treatment. The State Police and County Attorney’s office did their due diligence, Willis said, adding, “The town needs to be able to move forward, and we as a community need to feel confident we did all we could to come up with the right information.”
Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams said Monday that no date has been set for Anderson’s hearing.
At present the venue for the hearing is Derry’s 10th Circuit Court, although Reams said an effort would be made to transfer the location to Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood.
Reams explained that it would save staff members a drive to Derry but more importantly, it would be only one trial instead of two.
Reams said Anderson could appeal the ruling from Derry District Court but not from Superior Court, which meant his alleged victim did not have to undergo more than one trial.
The plaintiff is scheduled to testify, Reams said.