NEW GLOUCESTER — Several residents harshly criticized Selectmen Steve Libby and Nate Berry IV on Monday night for their actions at the March 3 board meeting.

At that meeting, both refused to participate in an executive session to discuss a lawsuit filed against the town by former town deputy treasurer and bookkeeper Sandra Sacco. Chairman Libby said he wouldn’t attend if Selectmen Josh McHenry and Mark Stevens were present.

The lawsuit alleges that selectmen held an improper executive session Nov. 4 and Sacco was not notified of her right to be present or given an opportunity to be heard. The board voted 3-2 to reduce her work hours and terminated her benefits. Libby, Berry and Linda Chase voted in favor; McHenry and Stevens voted against.

At the March 3 meeting, Libby chastised McHenry, saying he compromised the town’s legal position in the suit by offering emails as part of a Freedom of Access Act request and by responding to questions from the public about the matter.

“You submitted 300-plus messages on a disk to the (Freedom of Access Act) officer on emails to you, the press, citizens and the Saccos. Your oath of office was to notify the town of pending legal action,” Libby said at the time.

At another point in that meeting, Libby said to McHenry, “You look like someone who wanted to fund the legal defense to help the defense make its case,” and accused him of having a conflict in the matter.

McHenry denied having any conflict, and said he was just obeying the state law.

Town attorney Matthew Tarasevich addressed Libby, saying, “You called me and I advised you that nothing violated the law, there were no documents released and no breach of the law. The conflict issue is your issue.”

The board ultimately voted 5-0 to have interim Town Manager Paul First, Tarasevich and attorney Mark V. Franco handle the lawsuit. The town’s insurance carrier assigned Franco to the case.

“I was shocked beyond disappointment with what I saw at the last meeting of this board,” Christopher Rheault, who owns property in town, wrote in a letter to selectmen released Monday. “It would appear that disagreeing with the established powers in our little town brings nothing but grief and acrimony down on one’s head. Mr. Libby’s aggressive and orchestrated attack on a fellow selectman at the last meeting was beyond belief, so much so that even his typical supporters were visibly uncomfortable with the entire situation,” Rheault wrote.

Resident Penny Hilton spoke at Monday night’s meeting, saying instead of a cohesive, collaborative board, it’s been a three-person bully majority. She said she has no confidence in the board.

She also cited a citizen petition for a recall ordinance that the board received last month that seems to compete with a selectmen-appointed ad hoc committee to draft a recall ordinance.

“I’m very, very concerned through some manipulations of the rules, the public won’t get a real fair chance for the public to debate that citizen petition,” she said.

Resident Sean Chayer said the town needs a clear description of the board chairman’s role. He cited an executive session of the board in late December at which Libby and Berry walked out.

“This left an atmosphere of mistrust to this board,” said Chayer, who earlier this year requested all emails from selectmen regarding the Sacco case. Only McHenry provided a disk of the emails. Libby, Berry, Chase, Stevens and Field sent nothing.

Resident Steve Hathorne, who worked on the citizen-initiated recall ordinance and was named to the ad hoc committee, said, “I think you guys are in a sticky position. I don’t like the citizen petition against the ad hoc recall ordinance.”

Mary Ann Larsen said, “The real casualty in all of this is the democracy. (The public) thinks all politicians are rotten. Therefore, I don’t think I’m going to vote.

“I feel offended, annoyed, outraged that we have to pay attorneys hundreds of dollars per hour” for legal matters that have been ongoing for months, she said. “It is tragic. Everything that has transpired these last six months was needless and bothers my mind.”

During the meeting, the board adopted a FOAA request policy. Fees will be charged based on a 1998 schedule, with some modifications.

A Code of Ethics Policy will go to the town attorney for review, the board decided.

And, the board decided to will seek money for engineering studies to have a town garage and salt shed at the fire and rescue station complex on Route 100. It’s part of the plan for the Upper Village, First said.

The deadline for town warrant articles is noon April 4.

Selectmen expect to present the final town budget for 2014-15  this week.

The annual town meeting is May 5.


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