WAKEFIELD RESIDENT STEVE BROWN points at Carroll County Commission Chair Dave Sorensen six minutes into the Sept. 12 meeting in this frame taken from the video recording at www.governmentoversite.com. “One warning. That’s the warning. Next time you speak out I’m going to ask you to leave the meeting room,” said Sorensen. (Courtesy photo from Governmentoversite.com) (click for larger version)
September 20, 2012OSSIPEE — Carroll County Commission Chair David Sorensen is taking back the meetings. On Sept. 12 he laid out the ground rules of how the meetings will go from now on and how the public is expected to behave.
"We're going to enforce the 15 minute public input at the beginning and end of the meetings. We are not being fair to those people that are being paid as department heads to sit here when they should be working," said Sorensen.
While out campaigning on Primary Day, Sorensen said he was approached by voters in Wolfeboro and Conway who urged him to take back control of the meetings. Over the past year and a half or so, the public meetings have been a regular flurry of accusations, unsubstantiated claims, conspiracy theories, name calling, and tension.
The county commission meetings are available for viewing online at www.governmentoversite.com and the people are watching. "I think it was unusual for the number of people that came up to me saying they are watching it and it is disgusting and embarrassing," said Sorensen. He added that he was concerned he was going to lose the Primary but he handily won out over challenger Neal Boyle of Freedom for the Republican nomination for the two-year commissioner seat. He said he is listening to his constituents and will be using their suggestions to implement change. "I've assured them that it will be corrected," he said.
An incident at the beginning of the Sept. 12 meeting highlights one of the battles Sorensen has had keeping the meetings professional, productive, and calm. Regular meeting attendee Steve Brown of Wakefield lashed out at commissioners. Maureen Spencer, a volunteer member of the non-profit Friends of Mountain View was reviewing the previous week's commission minutes and in those minutes noticed someone had questioned how much the proposed walking trail at the county complex was going to cost taxpayers. She said the goal through donations and fundraising, is to have the trail funded without taxpayer dollars. "Who's going to maintain it?" Brown interjected from his seat in the back of the room. Sorensen quickly called him on his out-of-order behavior. "Oh, no, no don't you raise your voice at me," charged Brown, now standing and pointing at Sorensen across the table. "One warning. That's the warning. Next time you speak out I'm going to ask you to leave the meeting room," said Sorensen. It was the first sign that Sorensen was ready to retake control of the weekly meetings. During the exchange, David Babson left the meeting and went downstairs to the sheriff's department, bringing back three deputies to stand-by during the meeting.
One item that some have expressed as troublesome is the commissioner's decision to eliminate the inclusion of public comments in the meeting minutes. Babson (R-Ossipee) said not including the public's comments and questions in the meeting minutes could have an effect on the future county business if future elected officials or members of the public are unable to go back to these historical documents to gain understanding of past issues. Babson, who earned the Republican nomination for the District Two commission seat, will face off against incumbent Dorothy Solomon (D-Albany) in the November election. As a comparison into how elected boards typically prepare their meeting minutes in Carroll County, selectmen's meeting minutes in Effingham, Tamworth, Wakefield and Madison were reviewed and all were found to contain public comments, making the commissioner's action to eliminate this part of the minutes appear as an unusual way to conduct business.
During the typical lengthy process of approving past meeting minutes, Commission Clerk Asha Kenney took the opportunity to lash out at the recording secretary rather than take the blame for the minutes not being correct. Each week, papers are shuffled around during this portion of the agenda with the three commissioners giving their corrections and each week it becomes increasingly confusing as to what should or shouldn't be in the minutes. In addition to being commissioners, the three choose at the beginning of the year who will serve as chairman, vice-chairman, and clerk. Kenney was chose to be the clerk responsible for the preparation of meeting minutes and the secured archivist of county records. When asked by Conway Daily Sun reporter Daymond Steer how the recording secretary is supposed to know what is important enough to be included in the minutes, "That's why she needs to work with me, but it's not happening. She just types it up and it just goes out already there," Kenney retorted. Sorensen came to the recording secretary's defense. "You are doing a good job," he said.
The Commission is now on its third recording secretary in the past year and a half, with one citing that her reason for leaving was Kenney's irrational behavior and her treatment of the employee.
The concern about who gets a free lunch at the nursing home appears to be resolved as the commissioners and food services supervisor Rob Horace came to agreement at the Sept. 12 meeting. Kenney had accused the county's IT contractor, Jon Rich, of getting a free lunch when working on the complex. It seems that Rich wasn't the only one getting a free lunch and that the policy was not clear. Horace, who has made it publicly known that he doesn't think anyone should get free lunch, said he would inform the kitchen staff that the only people allowed free lunch are the ones who have this provision in their union contract. This includes nursing home and jail workers in non-supervisory positions. And while he again stated he doesn't think anyone should receive free lunch, he said the option should also be extended to contract nursing staff that are brought in as needed and are working side-by-side and doing the same job as the regular nursing employees. The commissioners agreed with him.
After enduring negative comments and unsubstantiated accusations lodged at him by Kenney at several commissioners meetings, Cybertron's Jon Rich defended himself and his company at the Sept. 12 meeting in a lengthy, well-prepared presentation. Kenney has accused him of creating fake invoices, marking up the parts he installs in the county's computer systems, charging for items that other contractors don't, among many other things. She frequently stated she "talked to other IT companies" but refused to give the names of the other companies.
"Commissioner Kenney I demand that you either provide proof of each and every one of your claims or cease and desist or that you once and for all cease and desist with these uncorroborated and defamatory remarks and that you retract these allegations and that you publicly apologize for making them in the same public forum in which you launched them. Commissioner Kenney let me remind you that you were not elected to pursue your personal agenda but to serve the best interest of the people of Carroll County. I would have thought by now that you would have figured out that I am not going to sit by idly and watch while you launch attack after attack against me and my company. I will return to these meetings as many times as necessary armed with proof of the truth. Commissioner Kenney I am not going away," said Rich
Not surprisingly, Kenney's response to Rich's statement was, "First of all, you cannot tell me what to do."
After allowing Kenney's continued flailing rants of accusations against Rich, Sorensen ended the Sept. 12 discussion with, "You need to put it in writing and we need to end this discussion and get on with the county business." Time will tell if he was heard.