Club Motorsports attorney gets hostile reception at selectmen's meeting
|THE BRUSH HAS GROWN UP but the sign remains at the site on Route 25 West in Tamworth where Club Motorsports, Inc. representatives remain hopeful that after eight years they may eventually be able to construct their closed road course. (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)|
June 23, 2011TAMWORTH— Attorney Kevin Baum of the law firm Devine Millimet waited for the right time to speak on the agenda, but that time never came at Tamworth selectmen's meeting June 16. And when Baum tried to interject on behalf of his client, Club Motorsports, Inc. (CMI) the board's chairman threatened to have him removed from the room by a police officer.
Baum was there to defend CMI's against the soil scientist report that accuses that group of multiple violations of the town's wetland ordinance.
The selectmen's meeting opened with discussion about the highway department working four 10-hour days instead of five days a week and permission was granted. The meeting then moved into other business matters then opened for public comment. Resident Susan Ticehurst stood to read a prepared statement regarding enforcement of town ordinances. "In 2003, when my younger son was just 12 years old, I chose a local issue to use as a homeschooling civics lesson on how we make decisions. As I envisioned it, we'd see how people pooled their knowledge, listened to differing concerns and created a mutually agreeable standard to live by. These standards are written in the form of ordinances and laws. Sadly, the lesson my children actually learned was very different. They were robbed of any innocent notion that an agreement, whether in the form of an ordinance or law, was binding on everyone equally," she read. She asked selectmen to keep in mind as they consider the "issues" to clarify who is required to follow ordinances and which ones don't have to be obeyed. "I'm asking you to defend democracy and self-determination right here and right now. The will of the citizenry has been expressed by vote and must be upheld," she said. Though during the meeting, Ticehurst did not say which ordinance or what decision she was specifically referring to in the letter, it appeared by several of those present that she was speaking to the decisions the selectmen would make later in the meeting, whether or not to enforce the Tamworth Wetlands Ordinance and whether or not to accept the report of the soil scientist, Greg Howard of North Country Soil Services.
According to a response to a request for information filed with the Tamworth selectmen's office, the town paid $1,120 for the report that was received June 1. The decision to hire Howard was made after the town's attorney and CMI's attorney came to agreement that a site walk would be conducted by Howard and CMI's soil scientist Jim Gove.
Baum did not speak during the public comment period. He later told reporters that he was waiting until the time on the agenda when the issue of the report was to be discussed. The board moved through their agenda allowing several people to speak on the issues of whether the town should adopt an alternative energy property tax exemption and where a good location would be for a new playground that Tamworth Foundation is ready to install.
But when CMI was on the agenda, Chairman William Farnum, began the discussion by reading from a page of prepared notes, spelling out a few facts and each motion that he wanted the board to vote in favor of. Baum attempted to speak three times but was cut off by Farnum twice and then threatened with removal if he spoke again. Farnum continued reading from his statement uninterrupted and made motions to accept the Howard's report, send it to the planning board, and instruct the town's attorney Richard Sager to file with the court and take all other "reasonable measures" to ensure CMI be enjoined from violating the Tamworth Wetlands Ordinance and seek penalties and attorney's fees.
Selectman John Roberts, while admitting that he has asked Farnum several times to step away from discussing or voting on matters involving CMI, voted in favor of Farnum's motions.
Selectman Robert Abraham said he has also pushed for Farnum's recusal from the entire matter, given that Farnum is an outspoken and active opponent of CMI's proposed road course on the side of Mt. Whittier and one of the founding members of FOCUS:Tamworth, a group established to fight the project coming to Tamworth. Abraham voted against all of Farnum's motions at the June 16 meeting, stating he thought Howard would be at the meeting to answer questions and hear concerns about the findings in his report. Abraham questioned the urgency of accepting the report. "I feel we should bring him here to talk about it," said Abraham. He also defended Baum's right to speak, stating, "Throughout all selectmen's meetings we have had public comments. They should have been allowed to speak."
"This is not a debate, this is not a public hearing," said Farnum. "This is a situation we need to deal with. We've been in litigation before. We're not going to get into a big he said/she said contest."
Though Roberts agreed with Abraham that Farnum should recuse himself, he disagreed that Howard should have been brought in to defend his report. "We hired him to go up there as an expert. I would hope when he comes in he wouldn't change his mind," said Roberts.
A spark of tension flew through the air when Town Administrator Cassandra Pearce abruptly questioned Abraham. "You've known for a while we were going to discuss this. You never once mentioned that to me (Howard should attend the meeting). You knew he wasn't going to be here. I can't ask someone to be here if you don't request him to," said Pearce. Neither Roberts nor Farnum expected Howard to attend the meeting but Abraham said that he honestly believed he would be there to present the findings.
Outside of the meeting room, Baum said he was "shocked" he was not able to speak but other members of the public were allowed to speak on other topics. He said those present on behalf of CMI should have been given the chance to defend CMI and address points they feel are inaccurate in the report. A press release addressing what they might have said if given the opportunity is printed in full as the "Guest Commentary" on page A11. At main issue is Howard's general conclusion, "There were seven (7) apparent violations of the Tamworth Wetlands Conservation Ordinance (TWCO) observed on the project site. A number of other deficiencies were noted on the site that if left uncorrected will likely result in impacts to wetland areas, surface waters and the 25-foot buffers creating additional violations of the TWCO."
The 21-page report with photographs is available for viewing at Tamworth Town Office.
[Editor's Note: Please see "Club Motorsports responds on page A11 of this issue.]