Selectmen Consider Policy on Talking with Lawyers

SANDOWN – The board of selectmen may be looking into creating a policy or at least sending out a memorandum to all town departments outlining how communication with town counsel should be handled. Selectman Jim Devine raised the matter at the board’s May 20 meeting in light of recent disagreements among planning board members.

In light of concern that member Matt Brown had a conflict of interest when overseeing a case with developer Bob Villella, with whom he has a mortgage, four lawyers were contacted. Chair of the planning board Mark Traeger obtained an opinion from the town’s official legal counsel, and Brown obtained two opinions from attorneys with non-profit municipal support organization New Hampshire Local Government Center and one from his personal attorney.

The town’s counsel gave the opinion that there was a definite conflict of interest, while the attorneys Brown contacted said just the opposite. On Monday, Devine said that without knowing the specifics of what was asked each attorney, it was difficult to sort out which opinion should be heeded. Devine suggested that those contacting the town’s attorney should document what was asked, so that a written record of request and response could be reviewed. It is easy to get the legal answer sought, depending on how the question is asked, said Devine, who added that he’d seen past instances where just that occurred.

“I don’t know what transpired,” said Devine about the legal correspondence. “But we need to look at it to make these kinds of decisions.” Town administrator Lynne Blaisdell said that if a legal opinion were needed quickly, it needed to be asked verbally, as the turnaround time for written opinion was longer. She added that this didn’t prevent a follow up correspondence from being taken up.

Selectman chair Tom Tombarello was concerned in the current situation with stepping on the planning board’s toes. Planning has its own lawyer, said Tombarello, and the selectmen can’t dictate to that board how that counsel should be used.

Selectman Hans Nicolaisen said he didn’t want to get involved in the specifics of what Devine was referring to with the planning board, but in his experience he found that the way a question was asked of an attorney had a great impact on the resulting answer. He suggested that as long as outside parties could see what was asked of the lawyer, they could more easily understand the resulting legal opinion.

Nicolaisen said that seemed the case with both sides of the current planning board argument.
The board suggested Devine take up the issue and come back with ideas on how to address the problem.
In other business Monday night:

• Tombarello announced that Ed Mencis and his Chubb’s Fries and Dough trailer would be at the transfer station on June 1, selling fried food for a good cause. This time the proceeds will go to helping the Sandown Senior Affairs Committee/ Transportation Program continue its work getting homebound seniors to important appointments. The group recently began giving rides and about a dozen residents have been since been helped.

Nelson Rheaume, who heads the group, said the program was doing well and the group was pleased with its progress.
• Recreation liaison Nicolaisen announced that new playground equipment was in place at the Edward C. Garvey Recreation Facility and would soon be open for use.

• The board regretfully accepted the resignation of Betsy Donahue-Davis from the Cable TV Advisory Board, as both an alternate member and its recording secretary. Nicolaisen thanked Donahue-Davis for her time and effort, saying she was one of those members that always made it out to meetings to make sure business could be conducted.
“She will be missed,” said Nicolaisen. The Cable TV Advisory Board is on the lookout for new members. Contact station manger Chris Donnellan at 887-0017 for more information.

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