PARIS – With a lawsuit pending against two selectmen, the board voted Monday night to dissolve a controversial ad hoc committee to review the town’s subdivision ordinance.

At the end of the meeting, Chairman Ernest Fitts III announced that he will not seek re-election to the board this year. He said that the decision was based not on the “pressure at meetings or lawsuits,” but due to a health problem.

“I love my town and have never lied or exaggerated,” said Fitts. “I try to always listen to both sides. And I hope the new board will let the citizens speak out more than I did, for it is the best way for the best ideas.”

Fitts, who has served as a selectman since 2006 and chairman since 2007, said he would have liked to run again. He asked that his last stipend check be donated toward the town budget.

Fitts and selectman Glen Young have been named in an appeal filed in Oxford County Superior Court by resident Bob Moorehead charging that the two board members had a conflict of interest in voting to establish the ad hoc committee.

The ordinance passed in a 487-468 vote in June, and the board voted 3-2 to create the committee after Ron Fitts, the chairman’s brother, asked in January that a list of concerns with the ordinance be reviewed.

Moorehead’s suit charges that Fitts showed a bias toward the building industry and his brother, and that Young, who was elected last June, stated that he wanted to run for selectman to change the ordinance. It seeks to void the two officials’ votes on forming the committee, as well their votes in the appointment of Ron Fitts as an alternate Planning Board member. It also asks that Fitts and Young be barred from discussion and votes related to the ordinance or appointments to committees with a financial influence over the code enforcement officer.

The 10-member committee, made up of the Planning Board and five members appointed by the selectmen, voted 6-1 with two abstentions on April 15 to recommend its dissolution to the selectmen. Bob Ripley, chairman of the committee, said the decision aimed to save taxpayer costs related to the suit.

“The threat of a lawsuit didn’t work, so they filed a lawsuit,” Ripley said on Monday. “A special interest group got their way.”

Selectmen approved the committee’s dissolution. Selectman Raymond Glover recommended that the issue go before the Planning Board, but no action was taken on the suggestion.

In a truncated vote, the board also declined to have the town assume legal costs to represent Fitts and Young. Although Glover and vice-chairman David Ivey voted in favor of assuming costs, selectman Gerald Kilgore voted against it, saying the town attorney wouldn’t accept money in a suit in which he and another board member were named.

With Fitts abstaining, and Young absent and expected to abstain, the two-vote majority was not enough to pass the item.

The vote went against the recommendation of town attorney Theodore Kurtz, who stated in a letter that having selectmen assume their own legal costs would have a “chilling effect” upon candidates for selectmen and provide “a potent weapon in the hands of a citizen who has a political dispute with a selectman.”

Fitts expressed dismay at the vote, saying the suit could cost him thousands of dollars in legal fees.

“If I’m accused of conflict of interest, my God, it must be a cinch to accuse some people around here of conflict of interest,” he said.

Resident Ann Stanley, in a pre-approved agenda item, suggested that an ethics policy is needed in the town. She said discussions during controversial issues in the town focus on laws and statutes but not on ethics.

“I am convinced that most of the confusion and dissension could have been avoided if there was an ethics policy in place to guide the town,” Stanley said.


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