Freedom Selectmen vs. Swanick: Public Hearing Is Back On

Freedom — September 14, 2006 — After meeting with Conservation Commissioner Theresa Swanick in non-public session for about 45 minutes Freedom’s Selectmen decided to go ahead with a public hearing on her removal from the commission. The hearing will take place at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25 at town hall.

Freedom Selectmen scheduled a public hearing for Monday night but agreed, by a vote of 2-1, to postpone the meeting until Sept. 25 and meet with Swanick and her attorney, Deborah Fauver, in non-public session Monday night. Town Attorney Peter Malia was also present.

In a July 20 letter notifying Swanick of her removal from the board, selectmen said she had grossly misrepresented a town document in a document she handed out to members of the Freedom Forest Advisory Board, and that handing out the document to board members was cause for her removal from the conservation commission. Swanick responded by requesting a public hearing, and one was scheduled for Sept. 11.

Selectman Jim Breslin objected to the change of date. “I believe that a public hearing is an appropriate forum for discussion of town issues,” he said, adding, that it would allow information from the community to come forward, both pro and con. Breslin also noted that the hearing had been scheduled a month earlier.

Fauver said the request for a non-public meeting came late because of the time it took Swanick to hire and meet with a lawyer, as well as the fact that the board did not meet last week because of the Labor Day holiday.

The non-public session took more than an hour, with selectmen meeting with Swanick for about 45 minutes and then meeting privately for about 15 minutes before announcing their decision.

Swanick and Fauver both said they were disappointed in the selectmen’s decision. They released statements about the meeting Tuesday.

“It was disappointing to make this effort and have a 45 minute forum where we could talk as openly as possible (in that it was private) and still have the selectmen unrelenting in their position.”

Fauver said Swanick has done nothing to warrant her removal from the commission.

“Theresa wrote a discussion summary of the Trout Pond Stewardship Plan in which Theresa omitted the Selectmen’s role in the management of the Town Forest. She wrote that portion of her discussion summary based on a legal opinion that had just arrived from the New Hampshire Municipal Association. When Theresa learned that the Selectmen vigorously dispute the NHMA legal opinion, she retracted her summary.

The Selectmen chastised her in public, and she apologized. There is no reason to remove her from the Conservation Commission — except that perhaps the Selectmen feel she is too strong an advocate for the Conservation Commission — and that is simply not a valid reason for her removal,” Fauver said.

Swanick had planned to give a presentation to the Forest Advisory Committee on the Stewardship Management Plan for the town’s Trout Pond property. She had prepared a summary of that plan, she said, in order to help give the presentation, and did not intend any misrepresentation.

Selectmen Chairman Les Babb said yesterday that selectmen decided to go ahead with the public hearing because so much of the discussion has already taken place in public and the board does not want the process to have the appearance of impropriety or back room dealings.

“We are servants of the public. We’re not trying to keep any secrets from anybody. We’ve got nothing to hide,” Babb said. “This way everybody will get it out there and everybody will see what’s going on and then we’ll make a decision.”

Swanick said she respected the decision but said the issue has taken time away from more important questions for the town.

“I respect them and agree the process should be as transparent as possible. I would like the public to be fully aware of how thoroughly we have discussed this; I have answered all of their questions as completely as I can. If the Selectmen feel they need input from the public on this narrow matter, we shall do it. Whomever cares that local officials be independent thinkers and motivated contributors to town governance should come witness this,” Swanick said.

“It is just a shame not to be getting past this and on with the larger issue that is the real controversy here so we can work out the parameters necessary for carrying on our work for the town. I hope we can conserve costs and our precious time and energy and resolve this on the 25th.”

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