Freedom — September 21, 2005 — Freedom’s Planning Board will not try to revoke a year-old agreement with Totem Pole Park that allows campers to stay 11 months on the condition that two alleged violators of the agreement come into compliance by properly registering their motor vehicles.
At the beginning of Thursday’s public hearing, which was eventually cancelled, board co-chair Ralph Kazanjian told a gathering of about 60, that of the 32 alleged violations identified by selectman Jim Breslin, only two violations were confirmed by the planning board.
The board voted to allow the alleged violators to correct their vehicle registrations “in a timely fashion.” If they don’t, they can be fined $275 for every day they are found in violation; and if the appropriate corrections are made, the planners said they would not pursue revocation of the park-town agreement.
“I suggest park residents correct these violations in a timely fashion so we can avoid proceeding with the revocation,” co-chair Brian Hampton said. “If they can be met within a timely fashion, Totem Pole will not be found in violation of the agreement. “That would permit us to cancel this public hearing,” Hampton added.
The offer by the planning board, for now, appears to have appeased the town, which has been concerned that the agreement would eventually allow Totem Pole’s 450 campers to become full time residents, and overload the town’s services and school.
After Breslin questioned the vehicle registrations, Thursday’s public hearing was seen as a first step to revoking the agreement.
Before the board voted, board member Geraldine Kudaka read two letters aloud. Both letters — one from town clerk Libby Priebe, and the other from Breslin — acknowledged that the original number of alleged violators, whose names Breslin submitted to the planning board on August 18, may be “inaccurate.”
The atmosphere in the room, between citizens and officials as well as among the officials themselves, was tense.
When Kudaka began to read Breslin’s letter, Hampton interrupted her.
“We may only introduce this information if we are going to proceed to a public hearing,” Hampton said.
Kudaka replied firmly, “This is a matter of public concern, since we are servants of the people here.”
Later, when Kazanjian read a portion of the town-park agreement aloud, a man at the back of the crowded room asked him to “speak up.”
“Why don’t you come up here so you can hear me?” Kazanjian retorted.
By canceling the scheduled public hearing, the planning board avoided discussion of allegations by Totem Pole Park Association attorney Patrick Wood, who claimed Breslin’s acquisition and public dissemination of citizens’ vehicle registration information violated New Hampshire’s right-to-know law, and possibly the federal privacy act. State law stipulates that motor vehicle records are private information, obtainable only through a government or court request. Conway’s deputy clerk and Bartlett’s town clerk both confirmed that such information is absolutely unavailable to their own town selectmen and other municipal officials.
But President of Totem Pole Park Association Paul Corbin, while admitting that listed violators were “up in arms” over the potentially illegal acquisition and publication of their private information, said he was pleased with the planning board’s decision. “They did the right thing,” Corbin said. “They saved face, and we still have our agreement.”
When asked whether the planning board’s continued reliance upon possibly illegally obtained private information would be challenged by the park, Corbin answered, “That’s not something we’re going to fight.”
Freedom town attorney Peter Malia, however, said he believes Breslin did not violate the privacy act.
“The statute pertains to records in the possession and control of the Department of Motor Vehicles; the whole statute relates to records in the state’s control,” Malia said. “The records that Breslin reviewed were in the town’s control.
“Furthermore,” Malia continued, “I don’t think he violated the privacy act because, had he requested the records from the state, he would have gotten them. There is an exception to the statute that allows records to be release to municipalities if they’re conducting official business.”
Planning board members met privately with legal counsel for 20 minutes before the Sept. 15 meeting was opened. As around 60 Freedom citizens and Totem Pole residents waited in town hall’s downstairs meeting room, the planning board and its attorney, John Radigan, convened in a back room, shutting the door behind them. Under state law, public boards can meet privately for legal consultations with attorneys.
The board’s decision to forego revocation of the year-old town-park agreement was unexpected in light of selectmen and board members’ apparent conviction that, since the contract had been violated, revocation of it was in order.
The agreement, which permitted Totem Pole Park to extend its season from six to 11 months out of the year, was made on the condition that none of the 493 park residents would register to vote or register their motor vehicles in Freedom.
In September 2004, a month after the agreement was signed, the New Hampshire attorney general overturned the portion of the agreement pertaining to voter registration, claiming it violated the residents’ constitutional rights.
Since the controversial 2004 agreement was signed, some town officials and citizens have voiced strong opposition, fearing the residents of the Ossipee Lake campground would pursue status as full-time residents, become eligible for municipal services like education.
But Corbin has said repeatedly that the town’s fears are unfounded. Other park residents have emphasized that they pay just as much in taxes as the citizens of Freedom and reap fewer benefits.