January 11, 2018OSSIPEE — Ossipee residents Joy Gagnon and Josh Arnold are asking a superior court judge to order a do-over of the Nov. 28 special town meeting.
The complaint, filed in Carroll County Superior Court Dec. 26 and signed by Gagnon, asserts the Town violated state law, specifically NH RSA 91-A:2 by not having ample space to accommodate all of the citizens who attended the meeting that considered and voted on buying a town beach.
There was a record turnout at the Nov. 28 meeting, with more than 500 people packing the town hall gym, the lobby, and lining the walkway out front. After a brief public question and answer period and a break to re-arrange the voting poll area, voters began checking in with election officials and making their way into the voting booths. In the end, the vote failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority.
The following selectmen's meeting, held Dec. 4, was well-attended, with public comment lasting more than an hour with several voters voicing concern that they or others were denied a fair vote.
Arnold was one who spoke up. He said he arrived at the meeting wanting to hear testimony before the vote, but was stuck outside in line. No town officials came out to explain to the crowd what was going on, he said, and he was unable to get the meeting agenda and denied the opportunity to make any motions. The set-up was not adequate or efficient and it was a "disservice to the democratic process." He was excited when first arriving, he said, to see the turnout, and to see people who had never participated in a town meeting process there for their first time. The excitement quickly faded, he said, and he realized there was a real problem.
At that Dec. 4 meeting, Select Board Chairman Rick Morgan defended the town officials involved in organizing and running the meeting and vote, noting the town clerk printed 350 ballots out of an "abundance of caution," but then 500 people showed up.
"None of us, nobody" could have foreseen the turnout, he said. But, he added, if one person was denied the right to vote it "should concern us all." He made it known that even though the vote had failed, he has been trying to get a town beach for Ossipee for 15 years and still has another 15 years in him to keep trying, assuring the meeting attendees "this isn't over."
The next morning, Dec. 5, Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius granted the town's motion for a temporary restraining order, prohibiting Diane Sheehan from selling Camp Sokokis to anyone else and accusing her of breach of contract and fraud. A hearing was held on that order Jan. 3.
State Rep. Ed Comeau (R-Brookfield) explained to the Dec. 4 audience, including Arnold and Gagnon, that they have recourse if they feel their voting rights were denied – petitioning superior court and asking for another opportunity to vote on the beach purchase.
In the Dec. 26 complaint, Gagnon argues that many voters were left standing in the cold outside for over an hour without accommodations to allow them to participate or hear the proceedings of the meeting.
"Due to age, illness, or other concerns, some registered voters were unable to stand in the cold or find parking close enough to the building and were therefore unable to vote," the complaint states.
The complaint asks the court to order a new meeting and vote as well as create a plan so this does not happen again. As of press time, a court date had not been set.