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Brookfield selectmen challenged on town counsel decision


July 02, 2009
BROOKFIELD — The Brookfield Board of Selectmen's decision on June 9 not to rehire Attorney Susan Slack as town counsel provoked a reaction from several residents.

Though each board has the right to hire whom they choose to represent them at the June 9 meeting, Tom Whelton presented the selectmen with written questions on the process of which they used to determine the replacement of Attorney Slack.

Selectmen Chair Clifton Camp replied that up until the retirement last spring of former Town Counsel Tim Bates, of Mitchell and Bates P.A., Bates had represented the town for several years without incident. After interviewing the two responding candidates for the position, Slack and Mitchell Municipal Group (successor to Mitchell and Bates), the board voted to hire Slack. Slack, a member of the Municipal and Governmental Law Section of the New Hampshire Bar Association and past Section chair, was hired for her previous experience counseling for many towns and city officials and for her extensive knowledge of litigation on land use matters both with the Local Government Center (LGC) and through her practice. At the time of her hiring in June 2008, a one-year trial period was agreed upon. Several times since then, Camp explained, the board was given advice that some members felt to be incorrect and the board sought alternate opinions, resulting in differing answers. Currently, as that one-year trial period has expired, the board has decided to change attorneys.

Selectman Ernie Brown remarked, without going into detail, that in his opinion there have been two significant incidents in which he felt the board had not received sound legal advice from Slack and his decision not to continue with Slack came from his discomfort with the advice he received on those occasions. Brown stated that, "with sound advice the town will save on court and legal fees."

Town Moderator and former planning board member Dick Peckham told selectmen that the public had the perception that the board went shopping for an attorney who would give answers they wanted. That the board decided to not continue with Slack and gave the public no inkling of that decision seemed unprincipled, according to Peckham. Chairman Camp assured that that sort of decision-making would not be repeated.

While Code Officer Ed Nason and one planning board member also voiced some dissatisfaction with the timeliness of Slack's responses, Selectman Craig Evans said that he had always been pleased with Slack's performance, and added that she is a "highly regarded land use lawyer in the state." Despite Evans' endorsement, the board voted two to one vote in favor of switching back to Mitchell Municipal Group P.A. of Laconia to serve as Town Counsel. Attorney Laura Spector, who works with the firm, is the town's point of contact.

Calls to Attorney Slack for comment went unanswered at press time.

Whelton questioned if the town has a human resources process that applies to employees in place. Camp responded in the negative, but added that there should be. Brown clarified that RSA 91-A governs what selectmen do in regards to personnel and the privacy of such issues.

Committee reports

Volunteers are needed for the town's Parks and Recreation Committee. Camp urges all residents interested in helping the town revitalize the Parks and Recreation Committee join him on Monday, July 20, at 7 p.m. at the Town House. The committee is seeking volunteers to reactivate the community in an effort "to get a park built in this town for our children."

Frank Frazier of the Agriculture Commission stated that there would be no Brookfield Farmers' Market this year due to a lack of interested sellers. The commission continues to collaborate their efforts with the Heritage Commission on plans for Open Farm Day and Old Home Day, to be held Saturday, Aug. 8. Frazier asked that folks interested in opening up their farm to the public on Open Farm Day contact him as soon as possible.

Selectmen addressed the need to form a Joint Loss Committee to which several residents immediately volunteered, including Pam Frazier and Ernie Brown.

The planning board has formed a subcommittee to review commercial business in Brookfield. The board encourages the public to participate as this is a highly disputed definition throughout the town. Those interested in getting involved should contact the subcommittee Chair Tom Whelton or Selectmen's Rep. Clifton Camp. The committee will wait for responses before scheduling the first meeting.

The Brookfield Board of Selectmen will continue to meet on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at the town office building. The next scheduled meeting is Tuesday evening, July 14, at 6:30 p.m.

Heather Terragni can be reached at 569-3126 or hterragni@salmonpress.com.

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