An effort by Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks to contact Councilor Neil Wetherbee has raised questions from Wetherbee as to its appropriateness in compliance with RSA 91:A.
Fairbanks texted and telephoned Wetherbee on Thursday, Jan. 16, to see if Wetherbee were available for a special meeting to discuss the search for a new town administrator. The discussion had been on the agenda for the previous Council meeting, but was never addressed because the Council reached its 10 p.m. limit before completing the agenda.
The substance of the text, furnished by Fairbanks, read as follows: “Neil Are you available for a special TC meeting 1/28 on old agenda item for town administrator selection process? Never got to it last Tuesday. 7 – 9 or 930. Thanks Mike.”
Wetherbee wrote in a memo that “At least two or more Councilors besides myself received a similar communication representing a quorum of the Town Council. In my opinion this represents a direct violation of RSA 91-A-2-a.” Regarding that state statute, Wetherbee cited the following:
• Public bodies shall deliberate on matters over which they have supervision, control, jurisdiction and power only in meetings; and
• Communications outside a meeting including but not limited to sequential communications among members of a public body shall not be used to circumvent the spirit and purpose of this chapter.
Wetherbee wrote in his memo that as Fairbanks had mentioned a date of Jan. 28 for the special meeting, there should have been ample time to discuss the matter in the Council’s regularly scheduled Jan. 22 meeting. “This in no way meets the Charter definition of ‘emergency meeting,’” he contended.
Wetherbee called the effort by Fairbanks “an attempt to circumvent state statute and do business behind closed doors.”
Regarding the Town Administrator issue, Wetherbee said he had requested at the Jan. 7 meeting that the meeting with boards and commissions scheduled as part of the Jan. 22 session be postponed until February, giving the Council time to deal with the Town Administrator issue. The board and commission meeting had to be rescheduled anyway, Wetherbee said, due to a decision to change the Jan. 21 Council meeting to Jan. 22 in order to give “board and commission” members a chance to attend the School District budget hearing.
Wetherbee said, “There is no reason that any need for a special meeting should not/cannot be discussed publicly and transparently on the 22nd.
Circumventing 91-A was not what he intended, Fairbanks said in a phone call over the weekend.
“I called him and Brad (Councilor Brad Benson) and was courteous and respectful,” Fairbanks said. “My intent was not to do anything underhanded. We ran out of time on the 7th, Jan. 22 was full, and Feb. 4 had a full agenda. I didn’t want to drag out the Town Administrator discussion.”
Fairbanks said he wasn’t trying to have a “meeting” with the phone calls and texts, just to see if his colleagues were available. “I didn’t want to set up a meeting and have five of the seven of us unavailable,” he said.
Also, he said, the meeting wasn’t intended to be secret and he had every intention of posting it.
He also contacted Councilors Phyllis Katsakiores, Tom Cardon, Mark Osborne and Al Dimmock, he said
Fairbanks said before he was elected chairman, he would receive similar calls from Wetherbee and former chairman Benson.
Fairbanks reiterated that his intent was to be “above-board, legal and proper,” and he said he would discuss the matter in the meeting Jan. 22, after the Nutfield News went to press.