Complaint against town employee sparks debate in Barnstead
June 01, 2010
BARNSTEAD — A complaint lodged against the town's building inspector and code enforcement officer by a town resident for alleged misconduct sparked a heated discussion between selectmen and the building inspector last week.
During a scheduled appointment with Building Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Fossett at their May 25 meeting, selectmen brought up a letter of complaint issued to them by resident Joyce Parsons objecting to the conduct of Fossett during and after an April 20 public hearing.
The purpose of the public hearing was to discuss a proposal by Fossett to inspect the bed bottom, which is the ground layer, of new and newly installed septic systems. That proposal ultimately failed in a 3-2 decision between selectmen during a continuation of the public hearing on May 11.
In the four-page letter, which is dated April 22, Parsons takes exception to what she deemed to be a sarcastic response by Fossett during the hearing after she questioned his qualifications for performing the inspections. She also raises concerns about Fossett contacting her employer, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, following the hearing.
During the hearing, DES, which performs most septic system inspections, was brought up, but an official representative from DES was not present on April 20 to speak about the bed bottom inspections, which is why the hearing continued to May 11, when a representative from the agency was present.
Parsons wrote that she had been told by her supervisor at DES that Fossett had called the agency shortly after the hearing regarding statements she made during the hearing. Parsons perceived the call to be a formal complaint filed against her, and questioned in her letter whether it would harm her work abilities or put her job at the agency in jeopardy.
Parsons, who was not in attendance at last week's meeting, stated in her letter that she spoke as a resident at the hearing. She added that she did not recall even identifying DES as her employer during the hearing.
Fossett told the selectmen at last week's meeting, however, that he contacted DES because Parsons identified herself as an employee of the agency during the hearing. He said he called to ask if she worked in a position at the agency where she would be privy to information regarding septic systems.
Board Chairman Jim Barnard said he felt Fossett was out of line by contacting Parsons' employer.
"You have no right to contact her employer," Barnard told Fossett.
Barnard also said that he had no recollection of Parsons identifying herself as a DES employee during the hearing. Board Vice Chairman Andy Houle, Selectman Dave Kerr and selectmen's secretary Karen Montgomery, who took the minutes of the hearing, concurred with Barnard, noting that they did not recall hearing Parsons identify her employer, either.
Selectman Bob LaRoche agreed with Fossett, however, saying that he remembered hearing Parsons identify DES as her employer during the hearing. Selectman Kathy Grillo said that she thought Parsons might have identified herself as an employee of DES, but was not certain.
LaRoche said that the dispute over the matter could be the catalyst for getting the meetings videotaped. Currently, there is no audio or video recordings of the meetings, but LaRoche said such recordings would prove handy when disputes arise over who said what.
LaRoche also criticized Barnard for what he deemed to be jumping the gun on the matter, saying that Fossett is a town employee, and Barnard should stand by him.
Houle said that he feels that everyone has a right to complain. He said no one should have to worry about the possibility of losing his or her job after stating his or her opinion at a public meeting.
"This is a free society," Houle said. Houle compared the situation to that of the control exerted in Nazi Germany.
Upon the selectmen's request, Fossett said he would issue a written response regarding the matter.
As the discussions regarding the issue were winding down, Grillo said she felt it probably would have been better if the matter were discussed in a non-public session. Prior to the issue being discussed, selectmen questioned whether it should be a non-public matter, but they shot-down that suggestion after some objected to it, noting that Parsons had come forward during the pubic input session at the selectmen's April 27 meeting to briefly discuss the situation.
200 vs. 250
Selectmen also discussed with Fossett the allotted square footage for an accessory structure where building permits are not required.
Fossett explained that the International Residential Code and the International Building Code, which the town has adopted, allow accessory structures up to 200 square feet to be built without a permit.
Houle objected to that, noting that Barnstead voters decided a structure can be up to 250 square feet and not need a building permit.
Kerr said, however, that the town previously adopted the building codes allowing structures up to 200 square feet to be exempt from a permit.
Fossett added that the state enacted a code, which allows structures only up to 200 square feet to be exempt, essentially making what voters adopted null and void.
"I still go by what the people voted on originally," Houle said adamantly. He suggested that the matter be reported on in The Baysider, so people are aware of the matter.
People that have structures that currently exceed the 200 square foot code will probably not be pressed for a permit, but structures exceeding that limit from now on will be required to have one.
In other business, selectmen met with Police Chief Ken Borgia and Officer Frank Grow to discuss a proposal for Internet phone service at the police department.
They also met with Road Agent Chris Carazzo in a non-public session.
The selectmen meet every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in their office at Town Hall.