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Selectmen grilled about fire chief situation

April 15, 2014
NEW DURHAM — During the public input portion of the April 7 New Durham Board of Selectmen's meeting, the board was questioned regarding the recent filing of a petition against the town for failure to reappoint Peter Varney as fire chief.

Resident Craig Polk from South Shore Road questioned the board extensively regarding the petition and the public's right to know about the petition.

Town Administrator Jeremy Bourgeois replied the public has a right to know some things, but not everything.

Polk questioned if the petition had at that time been served and was told yes, it had been. He then asked when it was served. Bourgeois stated it was served the previous week sometime, he was not prepared to give an exact date.

Polk then questioned Bourgeois regarding a supposed "gag order" that was issued by Bourgeois to town employees regarding this issue.

Chairman David Swenson objected to the term gag order, stating Polk could call it what he liked, but the town was simply acting under the advice of their attorney.

Selectman David Bickford stated he had not spoken directly to the town attorney, but his impression was a direction was given for town employees to not speak of this lawsuit or threatened lawsuit while at work.

Bourgeois nodded his head in agreement as Bickford made this statement.

Swenson stated that Bourgeois did not deny that he issued a communication with the town employees.

He also stated, "The town did not choose to file a lawsuit, but the town is consistent with the advice of the town attorney."

When asked if the town plans to fight this lawsuit, Swenson asserted the board of selectmen has not reached a decision on that issue yet. He went on to say they would not be prepared to make a decision without further non-public discussions.

When Polk asked what the issue was in the first place and why Varney was terminated, he was told, by Swenson, that Varney was not terminated. He was just not reinstated.

Former selectman Jeffrey Kratovil submitted a five-page letter to the board during public input with a total of 11 topics of concern he would like discussed.

The board approved several appointments to town committees including reappointing Arthur Capello as the Building Inspector/Public Enforcement officer.

Some of the appointments were approved by 2-1 votes with Bickford voting in the negative.

Bickford indicated he had some questions regarding the ethics committee and some actions taken, which needed to be resolved before he felt comfortable voting affirmative on some of these positions including Swenson's wife Joan Swenson for the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Swenson and Selectman Terry Jarvis both expressed to Bickford they did not follow his "logic."

"I don't know what is going on over there, but it appears five people, who have signed off on something misleading…need to find out info… until then [I] will not sign off on any of those people on any other committee," stated Bickford.

Bickford also voted against the merit increases for town employees. Swenson made a motion to approve merit increases retroactive to March 31, 2014, which he stated was the beginning of a pay period.

Jarvis seconded the motion and they both voted in the affirmative while Bickford voted against the motion.

He stated he voted against it because he "did not feel quite enough in agreement with you [on it]."

Highway department

Road Agent Mike Clarke addressed the board regarding positions to be filled. The board did vote to make an offer to an individual for the part-time seasonal position at $12.53 per hour to begin April 21 pending the criminal record check.

Clarke made a case for extending the seasonal position until November. He stated that he will only find himself before the board looking for an extension to the position based on work needing to get accomplished.

Swenson motioned to extend the part-time seasonal position to Nov. 30. He and Jarvis voted in the affirmative while Bickford disagreed.

Bickford stated he had received figures from budget committee member Anthony Bonnano and he found Bonanno has been gathering compelling evidence for scaling back the town's highway department.

Bickford went on to say he has been "getting a lot of pressure that we are not justifying [the position] enough."

Bickford stated he would like to have a study done.

Clarke questioned the accuracy of Bonanno's figures and stated he has previously provided the board with justification for positions needed, but he will get the information needed to the selectmen.

Clarke also stated that the New Durham Highway Department maintains 126 miles of road and the town has a lot of money invested in equipment. He disagrees with where Bonanno wants to take the town's highway department.

"Think long and hard about not replacing people," warned Clarke.

Swenson told Clarke that he appreciates Bonanno's work and information gathering, but "by the same token, I would not make a decision without hearing both sides and you should know this because we have asked you for this information."

The board approved Jennifer Nadeau for the position of part-time office manager of the highway department at $13.75 per hour. Her conditional start date is April 21 based on completion of criminal record check.

Jarvis and Swenson voted for the confirmation of this position while Bickford voted against it stating, "No, until we can reconfigure [staffing]."

The next regular meeting of the New Durham board of selectmen is April 21 at 1 p.m. in the fire station's community room.

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