A few day ago I wrote an article about RSA 91-A, The Right to Know Law, and how our sneaky, self serving, Right to Know Commission is, for the third year in a row, trying to get secret meeting language slipped into RSA 91- A to allow elected officials “wiggle room” to talk about public business behind closed doors, with secret letters, or private email.
And now we have Hillsboro, NH Selectmen “voting” to not renew the contract of the 15 year Town Administrator, Jim Coffey - much to his surprise.
Here is what the Hillsboro Selectmen reported in their Jan. 29, 2008 Non-public Meeting allowed under RSA 91-A:3,II (C). I leave out the standard parts and cut to the meat of why they are not renewing Mr. Coffey’s contract.
“It was the consensus of the Board that Mr. Coffey has a good reputation with the town.” (No vote)
“Chair Haley stated that Mr. Coffey has spoken about doing personal things, such as recreational sports, traveling, and spending time in his camp in Vermont upon retirement.” (Is that a letter of resignation?)
“James Coffey sent a letter to the Selectmen regarding his contract which expires on June 8th 2008.”
“It is the consensus of the Board that we will not renew Mr. Coffey’s contract beyond that date, but based upon his knowledge, his tenure at the job and his professional attachment to the town we want Mr. Coffey to assist the Board of Selectmen with the hiring process of a new Town Administrator.”
Then during the next part of the 23 minute Non-public Meeting the Hillsboro Selectmen go on to praise Town Administrator Jim Coffey.
So I would ask “Where’s the beef” with Jim Coffey? Exactly why have three Hillsboro Selectmen all shown up, without Mr. Coffey present, and in a 23 minute non-public meeting, recorded in the most cryptic minutes possible, come to a “consensus” to not renew the contract of the Town Administrator without a single reference to any problems.
The Selectmen voted in a recorded vote to go into and come out of the non-public meeting but never actually voted to not renew Mr. Coffey’s contract! (Remember the CNHT motto: “Sneaky doesn’t necessarily mean smart.”)
This is a classic example of a group who has been meeting on the side or by email and will probably lead Mr. Coffey to sue the town- again. He just won an out of court settlement with the Town’s insurance company, not really court itself, for having a former Selectman disparage him in a press release - and now round two, with a different Board of Selectmen.
Common municipal sense and the law should stop sensible people from doing this:
Making decisions, discussing strategy, or planning how votes will go BEHIND CLOSED DOORS!
The former Selectman who got the town sued and quit had probably convinced himself in private that he had some “dirt” on Mr. Coffey. Had he asked questions in public he could have found out what was going on and been right. In this case he was full of hot air it seems.
The current selectmen are probably quite satisfied with themselves that they pulled one over on the public - and Mr. Coffey. Time will tell.
Right now there is a bill in the NH House, HB 1408, created by lawyers on the Right to Know Commission, which will encourage public officials to do the WRONG thing and play fast, loose, and sneaky with the public’s business.
Get ready for more lawsuits and more of the wrong people getting elected to public office in New Hampshire in the future.