Selectmen ethics discussion attracts crowd
Residents question Boynton and Bolt over committees and contacting AG
April 21, 2010
LITTLETON—It was standing room only in the Community House Annex in a contentious Board of Selectmen meeting last Tuesday, as supporters of two selectmen lined up to rally behind them in their dispute over a request made to the Attorney General about alleged illegal behavior over committee appointments.
Less than two weeks ago, Selectman Ed Boynton contacted the Attorney General with concerns that Chairman Ron Bolt had acted illegally, or at least unethically, by allegedly trying to promise appointments on town boards and then trying to delete e-mails about the topic off town computers.
In an unusual move, Town Moderator Gerald Winn moderated the meeting. He said it was the first time in 28 years he could remember being asked to moderate a select board meeting.
Boynton explained the chain of events that led him to contact the AG. He said he saw an e-mail in the town office from Bolt addressed to Schulyer Sweet, who had been a nominee for the Budget Committee. In the e-mail, Bolt told Sweet, "In the worst possible output, almost inexplicably, you were appointed to the Budget Committee and Brien Ward was reappointed! This is the outcome I told you I would not allow to happen. I failed. I am now asking you to refuse the appointment. If and when you do this, you will be replaced by Greg Eastman. Please call me tomorrow so I can explain. This is so embarrassing."
This appointment happened during a Board of Selectmen meeting April 7. Bolt sent the e-mail later that same night.
Boynton said that Bolt had acted unethically, if not illegally, by appearing to have promised Sweet a spot on the committee and then Eastman after asking Sweet to resign.
Bolt read a statement explaining the e-mail was a private one to Sweet and that he had told Sweet he would not be on the Budget Committee with Ward. Ward was appointed, along with Sweet and Bill Kittridge. He had been told in confidence by Sweet that he did not like Ward and would not serve with him. Bolt was trying to save both men embarrassment, he said.
"I regret that Selectman Boynton misunderstood the words and meaning of my personal e-mail to Mr. Sweet," Bolt said. He said Boynton should have contacted him first before going to the AG's office and that Boynton hung up on him on the phone when he tried to explain himself.
"I now call for Mr. Boynton, in consideration of the facts of the case, to withdraw his request for an investigation by the Attorney General," Bolt said.
Bolt said he understood the Littleton way of dealing with things was to get issues out in the open quickly, discuss them and move on. That's what he wanted to do, he said.
A number of citizens jumped in to criticize both Boynton and Bolt.
Chris Hodge asked Boynton what could possess him to contact the AG without getting a full explanation from Bolt or going to town counsel first.
"If I've heard it once I've heard it 1,000 times we need transparency. Well by God you're going to get transparency," Boynton said.
Linda Massimilla said there was a chain of command and that Boynton should have gotten answers from Connell and town counsel first, before contacting the AG.
Former selectman Bud Foster said that at one time the selectmen did what the people wanted.
"It looks to me Mr. Bolt was way out of line," Foster said.
He said the Littleton way of dealing with things is to apologize for doing something wrong, and then move on.
"You're dodging and ducking," Foster said.
Several residents told Bolt he shouldn't have tried to delete the e-mail. It became a public record once it was on the town computer, they said. Bolt said he disagreed, that selectmen have some privacy as long as they're not contacting each other.
Ron Marvin said he did not think Bolt was trustworthy, while Jeanne Dickerman said that in her dealings with Bolt she has always found him to be "unwaveringly honest who would never knowingly do something illegal." She said both sides in the matter had made mistakes and she hoped they could move on.
Frankie Porfido asked Bolt if maybe it wouldn't have made more sense to tell Sweet he could make him no guarantees about who he would serve with.
"In hindsight, probably so," Bolt said.
Porfido continued and said that Bolt has preached transparency since being in office.
"You've been anything but," Porfido said.
Bolt said he was trying to get the best results for the committees and people involved.
"Perhaps I acted clumsily. I'm sorry," Bolt said.
At the end of the meeting Winn tried to find common ground among the participants, though many said with an answer expected from the AG, it would be hard to leave the issue completely behind.
"Subject to contrary word from the Attorney General, if this is a misunderstanding, can we agree to go forward for the good of the community?" Winn asked to applause from the crowd.