Selectmen Chairman Shawn Dahlen had to gavel Selectman Chris Donato into order and adjourn the board’s meeting Monday. Dahlen accused Donato of breaking the open meeting law by discussing issues not on the agenda, including a lawsuit against the town.
After selectmen had conducted their meeting business, but before adjourning, Donato brought up an issue that he wanted placed on a future agenda.
The issue involved the town using Town Counsel Robert Troy instead of an attorney provided by the town’s insurance company during a lawsuit brought by the previous manager of North Hill, Doug Johnson. Donato wanted to see Troy’s invoices pertaining to this lawsuit and he submitted a public records request for them. He said his request was denied and that the reasons were outlined in Dec. 30, 2011 legal opinion from Troy. Donato also wanted to discuss when selectmen and/or the town manager would ask for a legal opinion from Troy.
“The town is blowing money,” said Donato, “and I want to find out what the reason is.”
Donato said he wanted to talk about these items at a future meeting and he began to give details about what he wanted to discuss, but Dahlen said Donato was saying too much and creating a discussion that was not posted on the agenda.
“You’re giving us what you’re going to say at the (future) meeting,” said Dahlen.
“I’m not asking to discuss this issue,” said Donato. “I’m asking to get it on the agenda, but I want to put the issue out there so everyone in the public is aware of the specific issue I want to discuss.”
Dahlen responded, “But that’s not how an agenda item is. An agenda item is not a paragraph or multiple paragraphs. An agenda item is very specific.”
“Why are you so afraid of discussing this issue?” Donato asked Dahlen. “I’m not asking to discuss it tonight. I’m asking to discuss it in a couple of weeks on the agenda. How do I get it on the agenda when every time I ask I am denied? This is something that has been going on for months.”
Dahlen said that this issue was raised in an executive, or closed-door session, of the selectmen’s meeting, and that that’s where the discussion belonged.
Donato disagreed. “This is not an executive session issue,” said Donato. “It’s about how we are paying an attorney, and who authorizes an attorney when the town bylaws say that board of selectmen have to give approval to have the town counsel handle the matter.”
“My point is it was started in executive session,” said Dahlen. “You asked for something in executive session and that was being followed through. If you are not satisfied, then we need to put it on the agenda.”
Donato insisted on explaining his position, speaking more loudly and forcefully. Both Donato and Dahlen then started to interrupt each other and talk over one another. Selectman Ted Flynn watched the exchange but did not comment.
“People don’t know,” said Donato. “I can ask a question here. I’m a member of the board of selectmen.”
“You’re going too far,” Dahlen told him.
Donato asked Dahlen, “Why is it such an issue to let the people know what’s going on behind the scenes?”
“It isn’t an issue, but it’s an issue that’s not on this agenda,” said Dahlen.
“I am asking you to put it on the agenda in two weeks,” said Donato.
“That’s fine, and I don’t mind putting it on the agenda, but write it down without making a statement,” Dahlen said.
“I don’t have to write it down,” Donato said.
Town Manager Richard MacDonald interjected, “This is a violation of the Open Meeting Law. I’m not going to be a part of this.”
He then walked off the raised platform where selectmen and town officials sit.
“I’m not asking, Richard, for your opinion,” said Donato.
“I’ll give you my opinion,” responded MacDonald. “And I’m leaving.”
“You should leave Rich. You should,” said Donato.
“No,” said MacDonald. He stood in the back of the room for the rest of the discussion.
Dahlen told Donato he didn’t need to go into detail in asking for an agenda item. “Whatever you’re asking for should be the same thing that is going to be typed on the open meeting agenda,” said Dahlen.
Donato said he wanted the selectmen to direct the town manager to produce the executive-session minutes from March 2008 – 2009, as well as copies of Attorney Troy’s bills from March 2008 until the present at no charge to the board of selectmen. He also wanted to know who asked Troy for an opinion on whether or not the invoices were part of the public record.
Dahlen told Donato that he was giving out too much information regarding a confidential issue, but Donato persisted in explaining his reasons for asking for an agenda item. Dahlen, who had remained calm throughout the exchange, raised his voice once when he told Donato to “pick up the phone and call Bob Troy yourself and get the explanation.”
“Why do I need Bob Troy’s explanation?” Donato responded. “Half the stuff he’s told us has not been true. Why would I ask him anything?”
Donato then began talking about the North Hill lawsuit and a request for proposals, and at that point Dahlen shut him down by ending the meeting.
“You’re discussing litigation,” Dahlen said.
“No, I’m not,” said Donato. “I’m discussing our town counsel.”
“You’re in violation of the Open Meeting Law,” Dahlen said. “You’re talking about litigation. I have to end the meeting.”
The selectmen then voted to adjourn the meeting and left.