County commissioners debate when a meeting is a "meeting"

December 26, 2013
OSSIPEE — Although it was for a seemingly noble purpose, planning a Christmas party and buying a coffee maker still required a meeting. And a meeting is a meeting.

Following the Carroll County Delegation meeting held Dec. 16 at the County administration building in Ossipee, two of the County Commissioners, David Sorensen and David Babson met behind closed doors to discuss, they later announced, those two items.

New Hampshire's law on public transparency, also known as the right-to-know law, specifically spells out what constitutes a "meeting." In RSA 91-A:2 "Meetings Open to the Public," a meeting is described as a majority of the members of a public body who get together for the purpose of discussing or acting upon matters over which they have control. These discussions can either happen in person, electronically, or even by telephone, but in any case count as a "meeting" and a notice to the public must be posted in advance, according to other sections of the law.

Sorensen said he didn't consider the "discussion" about the coffee maker purchase, the Christmas party, and his recent trip to Switzerland a meeting because "there was no business discussed and there was no vote taken."

To anyone who follows the weekly business of the county commissioners, it is no secret the three-member board has a less than cohesive working relationship, with Babson and Sorensen seemingly working well together while Commissioner Asha Kenney has a number of times complained she is left out of the loop.

Kenney said she was not aware or invited to the closed door meeting Monday. She brought up an incident in the recent past when a similar issue arose and questioned what the difference was.

In the recent past, Sorensen was in a meeting in the human resource office and Kenney attempted to join that conversation. She was shooed away from the office because, if she stayed, it would have been considered a quorum of the board and would have been an illegal meeting. At the Dec. 18 commissioner's meeting Kenney questioned what she sees as a double standard and indicated both instances were just an attempt to shut her out of county business.

"If you want to hang me out because we discussed a Christmas party instead of waiting two days to discuss it in a public meeting, go ahead," said Babson.

There was also discussion at the Dec. 18 meeting about the work that goes into the job of being a county commissioner, as Babson accused Kenney of collecting a paycheck but not fulfilling her share of the job responsibilities. Babson, who can be found at the county complex nearly every day of the week, pointed out to Kenney that the job involves a lot more than four hours a week attending the commissioner's meeting. Kenney said she is very busy with other things to do. There was no discussion, however, about Sorensen's time commitment to the job. Babson pointed out that somehow, perhaps because he only lives a short distance from the County complex, he has ended up with all the check signing responsibility that should be shared amongst the three commissioners. He said there are typically 40 to 50 checks, along with their related invoices that must be reviewed and signed. This is a job that usually takes two to three hours. He is now in his 49th week of his elected term and of those weeks, he's been the one to do the job 41 times. Kenney said it would be easier if all of the checks were prepared for their review and signature on Wednesdays when the commissioners are already obligated to be at the County complex rather than having to make a special trip to sign checks.

"Nothing in our job description says we only work on Wednesdays," said Babson, "I am here almost every day. I am just as busy as you are."

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