Freedom — August 21, 2005 — Frustrated that Totem Pole Park residents are registering their cars at town hall in violation of a one-year-old agreement that allows campers to stay 11 months, the planning board unanimously decided to hold a public hearing, a necessary first step to revoking it.
But Paul Corbin, president of the Totem Pole Association, believes town officials are using the violations as justification to rescind an agreement he claims the town never wanted.
The agreement permits the campsite, with over 450 campers, to extend its season from six to 11 months a year. Because many Freedom voters were concerned that that would give Totem Pole residents the same status as full-time Freedom residents, and make them entitled to town and school services, the accord hinged on campers agreeing that they could not register to vote or register their cars.
Less than a month after the agreement was signed, the New Hampshire Attorney General declared that barring Totem Pole residents from voting was unconstitutional, and as a result, that portion of the agreement was nullified.
But though the car registration restriction remained, 30 campsite residents registered cars in Freedom and cited Totem Pole as their full-time residences.
Selectmen Jim Breslin said that since the agreement was made, between the Totem Pole Association and town in August 2004, there has been an increase in, and even renewals of, vehicle registrations by park residents.
Based on the persistence with which residents are violating the agreement, Breslin claimed Totem Pole Park campers had no intention of honoring the agreement with Freedom, and urged immediate rescission of the pact.
Board alternate Paul Dorian, who served on the board last year when the agreement was signed, agreed that the commitment on the part of the park residents did not seem serious. “I’m not pleased,” Dorian said, shaking his head. “I’m not pleased that the residents’ obligation seems to have been disregarded, even if it’s been disregarded by the minority of that population.”
Dorian added, however, that he would like to see a peaceful resolution to the situation, implying that discussions between the association and town officials could, perhaps, be a substitute for revocation.
“I don’t want to be the bad guy, but there has to be a working relationship. I don’t want to see the town and Totem Pole Association locking horns all the time,” Dorian said. “My intuition tells me that’s going to happen if we can’t resolve some of these issues.
“I don’t want to see a rift; I like to do things peacefully,” Dorian added. “But I also feel that the town has to take a firm position.”
But things may have already turned ugly. Ralph Kazanjian, planning board co-chair, alleged that the town clerk had been bullied by Totem Pole residents into granting their vehicle registrations.
“The town clerk has been intimidated,” Kazanjian said. “She’s alone up in the office on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and people from Totem Pole have intimidated her into approving their vehicle registration.”
Most recently, vehicle registration requests have been directed to Breslin. According to him, Totem Pole residents often didn’t know or care about the terms of the park-town agreement.
Not only is Totem Pole Park in violation of its agreement with Freedom, but the individual violators may also be in violation of state laws.
Dorian suggested Freedom employ the Department of Motor Vehicles from the residents’ home states to “play the part of the bad guy and take some of the heat” off of Freedom officials.
Breslin, agreeing, said New Hampshire state officials were already investigating Totem Pole residents’ unauthorized vehicle registration. Breslin claimed that he had provided highway patrol officers with a list of campers in violation. Highway patrol officials were unavailable for comment.
State help may be necessary to enforce the rules of the agreement if the board allows the agreement to stand; some board members were concerned over the association’s apparent inability to stop Totem Pole residents from violating the terms of the agreement.
“I don’t think that the Totem Pole Board has control over the 450 campers in their development,” Chuck Brooks, a board member, said. “And because of that, I don’t think they can hold those people to their end of the agreement.”
Corbin acknowledged that it is impossible for the association to manage everyone in Totem Pole.
“I cannot control the campers anymore than the town of Freedom can control every single one of its citizens,” Corbin said. “We’ve been unfairly characterized in that respect, because it’s not possible to guarantee that every single person will follow the rules. You knew that all along.”
He claimed that the association has never received the names of park residents in violation of the agreement.
“If we had heard the names of these people, we could have fixed this,” he said. In the past, he said, the town and park have worked “amicably” on permitting, registration and other issues. Their reticence to work with the association in deterring violators, he said, is due to their eagerness to rescind the entire agreement.
Corbin said the only time violations had ever been called to his attention was late last year, when the Freedom town attorney, John Radigan, sent a list of registration violators to the association’s attorney.
The list, Corbin claimed, was of people who had been registering their cars in town for years and leaving them at Totem Pole year-round. Corbin said this was legal for them to do.
Freedom officials claim they never heard back from the association or its attorney, Patrick Wood, but Corbin said Wood had responded promptly to the letter. In addition, Corbin claimed that not all of the current, alleged violators, whose names were included in a letter written and read aloud at the meeting by Breslin, had registered their vehicles in violation of the agreement. Corbin said that he found at least five people on the list who no longer lived at Totem Pole Park.
Others, he said, did not list their Totem Pole address as their full-time residence, as was claimed by Breslin. Corbin said the town’s unwillingness to cooperate with the association in reducing violations and the misinformation provided by Breslin is the town’s way of revoking an agreement they never wanted to make in the first place.
“I think they made the number of violations sound worse than it is to get it done,” Corbin said, in reference of the agreement’s possible revocation. “They are concerned Totem Pole people will move here and live here, and put their kids in school and that the town will have to support these people.
“It’s very unlikely that that would ever happen,” Corbin finished.