Another City Manager Who Should Be Pounding Pavement

Those of us involved with taxpayer activism understand this: Elections are meant to settle things in government EXCEPT when an election slows the process of growing government – even municipal government.

Case in point: Rochester, NH where a Spending Cap was just voted into the City Charter by 72.29% of voters in an otherwise fabulous year for liberal tax and spenders.

Now we have one highly motivated, tax and spend, liberal City Councilor, Charlie Grassie, attempting, along with the help of the City Manager John Scruton, to undermine the new Charter Amendment before it takes effect. They have crafted some sort of ordinance they hope will weaken the Spending Cap.

I don’t think this Grassie fella is smart enough to do this alone so he must have some outside help from a taxpayer unfriendly law firm. Often this is the case in other municipalities.

Here are the details about what is going on in Rochester as written by CNHT Director Cliff Newton. This will probably wind up in court.

Of Scheming Schemers and Conniving Connivers

Friday, November 28th, 2008

9,755 voters spoke loud and clear. They want a limit on Rochester government spending. NO MORE BLANK CHECK. The tax cap limiting the amount your property tax rate can increase is now part of the city charter and will be effective January 1st 2009.
So where are we now? The many of you who watched the November 18th council workshop saw a mystery draft ordinance appear, and a bad one at that.

Who were the authors of such a dastardly document? Our City Manager John Scruton admitted that he worked with City Councilor Charles Grassie, and yes it is important to name names here, to bring forth this draft ordinance. The people’s business was done in an unannounced, non-meeting meeting, apparently without the sunshine of open government and without legal advice.

What did the draft ordinance propose to undermine the charter and cause damage? This ordinance, alleged by one of its authors, to be a starting point to enforce the adopted charter amendment, actually had wording which would have gutted it. The draft excluded the State and County portion of our tax bill from the limit. It also had so-called item (e) in it which would have allowed tax levies to exceed the limitations of the tax cap. Additionally, there is wording which would allow a tax assessment of non- profit construction projects to be used to increase the new construction tax base and increase spending. Since non profits do not pay property taxes, this will increase taxes we will have to pay.

Where did this undermining ordinance originate? Apparently in and around the City Managers Office. When Mr. Scruton was asked, by a Right-To-Know request to review any and all correspondence between him and Councilor Grassie concerning the tax cap and this proposed ordinance, he offered a few email responses. What was missing in those responses was a paper trail, or connect-the-dots where there was direct correlation of Councilor Grassie helping with the draft ordinance. When asked again, Mr.Scruton replied in an email, “Chuck probably spent a couple of hours total in my office talking to me about it while I typed the draft on my computer. We also talked about it at a conference over lunch.” This response would appear to directly link Councilor Grassie with influencing the language of the draft.

The “when” of this ordinance appears to have started prior to October 20th and again in earnest November 7th 2008, three days after it was voted into the charter. As of yet, there are no exact dates and times other than those on the emails.

Why is this a problem? Mr. Scruton is bound by law, particularly RSA49-C:16 which states: “The charter shall specify a mayor or city manager who shall be the chief administrative officer….. He shall enforce the ordinances of the city, the charter, and all general laws applicable to the city.” He shall enforce the charter. What are the people supposed to do if he is co-author of an ordinance which, in my opinion, can be interpreted to undermine the newly adopted charter amendment? Mr. Scruton has also chosen to co-author this draft work with only one city councilor . That councilor, Mr. Grassie, has vehemently opposed the charter amendment both vocally at council workshops and by voting against it at regular meetings.

Is there another problem? The city council and all of its members are supposed to act as a body. 49-C:19 Non-Interference by the Elected Body. – “The elected body shall act in all matters as a body, and shall not seek individually to influence the official acts of the chief administrative officer.” This is state law. Did Councilor Grassie violate state law by taking it upon himself to meet with the City Manager and influence the outcome of the draft ordinance, as admitted by Mr. Scruton, both at a public meeting and in an email?

Should the good Rochester residents and other City Councilors sit back and allow such harmful scheming and conniving to continue by an appointed and elected official, or should we speak out loud and clear and demand action against those who would undermine our charter and the will of the people?

Cliff Newton, Rochester