KENSINGTON — The Board of Selectmen say they will resign if a third-party researcher, possibly the Attorney General's Office, determines that they were at fault in a dispute with two longtime volunteers.
Otherwise, they're staying put.
The challenge for the resignations of Norman Deboisbriand, Bob Wadleigh and Linda Blood came after an often-acrimonious three-hour session Tuesday night, when residents crowded the Town Hall to discuss the termination of Donna Carter from the Recreation Committee and the termination of both Carter and David Macek from the Sawyer Kensington Trust Committee.
Carter, a 29-year member of the Recreation Committee, received notice of her termination in June. She alleges that the board never gave her a reason for her termination. The board said it had to meet with legal counsel first.
Macek, a 15-year volunteer and the coordinator for adult softball, was terminated as a member of the trust, which controls the use of Sawyer Park, after an audit of the Recreation Revolving Fund, known locally as "The Revolver," called for better record-keeping. The letter to Macek from selectmen gave as the reason for termination "misappropriation of funds," which Macek denies. Macek has sought legal representation for slander and libel.
The issue has been vigorously discussed on both Facebook and the Kensington Squawks! page. "We never intended this to be what it's become," Selectman Chair Deboisbriand told the crowd.
The selectmen are intending to contact the Attorney General's Office to investigate whether the board was correct in removing the two volunteers, Deboisbriand said.
"No one can deny," he said, "that David and Donna have done wonderful things for this town."
But, he added, "The bottle is open and we can't put it back in."
In the public forum section of the meeting, Macek and his supporters wanted to know more. "When will the facts be made public?" asked resident Bill Patania.
"When the investigation is concluded," Deboisbriand said.
Resident Bob Sher asked who came up with the term "misappropriation of funds," and Deboisbriand said it was his phrasing. Sher challenged Blood and Wadleigh, who said they approved the term.
"Why did you think that would not stir the pot?" Sher asked. "It's a very strong assessment from the auditors not using that term."
"The facts the board had in front of us led to the using of that term," Deboisbriand countered.
Sher read the letter from Macek's attorneys, Coughlin, Rainboth and Murphy, stating that the only finding from the audit was that "the record-keeping should have been better." The letter stated that the auditors found no "misappropriation of funds."
The letter called for a retraction of the term, in public and in writing, by the next selectmen's meeting. "If you choose not to do so, we will commence our suit against the town of Kensington for defamation, including libel and slander," the letter stated.
The public forum was frequently interrupted by boos, cheers, applause and many people talking at once.
Give me a reason
Carter did most of her speaking after the public forum, when she was on the agenda. She said the Board of Selectmen had terminated her inappropriately, as her term is not up for another year. Blood, selectmen's representative to recreation, responded that she had thought, and informed a News-Letter reporter, that Carter's term was up in April rather than 2019.
Carter also disputed statements by Blood that Carter was the only person on the Recreation Committee for several years.
"You were the only one when Holly and I joined," Blood said, referring to Recreation Committee member Holly McCann. "The others did not show up for meetings."
But most of all, Carter wanted answers.
"When do I get an answer as to why I was terminated?" Carter asked.
"You got an answer tonight," Deboisbriand said, to which the crowd shouted, "No! That was Macek!"
Carter said she was terminated by the board in a nonpublic session June 11. She found out after a Recreation Committee meeting June 13. On June 18 she was told she would receive a letter detailing the reasons for her termination. She is still waiting.
"You will get your letter," Deboisbriand said, adding that the board had to talk to town counsel first.
"Can you give me a date for the attorney's meeting? Can you give me a time frame?" Carter pressed.
"If I give you a time frame and it's not met, it will be all over Facebook," Deboisbriand responded.
Resident John Andreasse asked, "At what point can she expect the letter?"
Selectman Wadleigh made a motion that Administrative Assistant Kathy Felch contact town counsel and set up a meeting. The selectmen unanimously approved the motion.
Should they resign?
Deboisbriand said he would resign if the independent investigation found that the selectmen had been "found to be negligent." Blood and Wadleigh, questioned separately, also said they would resign if found at fault.
Macek countered, "If you resign, I will drop the lawsuit," but the selectmen said they would not resign before the findings of the investigation.
In a show of hands asking who favored resignation, at least half the hands went up.
But the three selectmen reiterated that they would not resign unless the findings showed them negligent. They also declined to retract their letter to Macek.
Deboisbriand compared their job to running a business and said that difficult decisions had to be made. It isn't personal, he said, but every decision they make is for the good of the town. "It is not our job to gloss over things, to kick them down the road," he said. "We took oaths to do what we have to do."
The investigation should have come at the beginning and not after the two volunteers had been removed, community member Gail LePage told them.
Resident Herman McGee said, "You're about to take us down a road we shouldn't have to go down. It does get personal, the legal costs will come out of my wallet."
Patania urged the three selectmen to meet and revisit the topic, "before you take us down this path."
"There is a reason we are holding back," Deboisbriand said, noting that "things were said in nonpublic session." He said they would contact counsel and formulate a plan, adding, "We work within the parameters given us, and sometimes our hands are tied."
A 'magical place'
Briana Grieco, a yoga teacher and new resident, urged her fellow citizens to get along. She said she decided to move to Kensington after several visits to the Farmstand at Eastman's Corner, where she engaged locals in conversation. "The more we talked, the more it seemed like Kensington was a 'magical place,'" she told the crowd.
"It should be all about peace and happiness, whenever you do something for the town," she said, urging her fellow residents to "take deep breaths."
"The only thing every person wants," she said, "is to love where they live."