Ossipee — January 6, 2018 — A judge is weighing whether Ossipee voters should have a second chance to decide whether they want to spend $1.2 million to buy a town beach and if a gag order can be imposed on the seller. On Dec. 5, Ossipee selectmen filed for a temporary restraining order against Diane Sheehan, asserting that after signing a contract agreeing to sell 53 acres of land with 200 feet of frontage on Ossipee Lake, she began a campaign to dissuade voters from approving the purchase.
“She encouraged voters to vote against it. That’s just blatant contract breach,” Town Attorney Richard Sager said during Wednesday’s hearing.
During a special town meeting on Nov. 28, residents were asked to vote on the land deal to be paid for via $200,000 raised through taxation and to bond the remaining $1 million. The vote was 297 in favor and 171 opposed — 15 shy of the two-thirds majority needed. Sager told Judge Amy Ignatious that before a recount of the vote had been complete, Sheehan signed a purchase and sales agreement with Paul Fitts and John Seda for the same price offered by the town.
“There was just bad faith all over the place,” he said.
The town wants an injunction preventing Sheehan from selling the land to remain in effect until Town Meeting, March 13-14, when the beach purchase would again be put before voters.
“This isn’t about buying a Chevy, but a unique piece of property and they should be given another shot without her interference,” Sager said of voters.
Sheehan’s lawyer, Phillip Marbury, said the legal issue is not one of contract, but of free speech. The town not only wants the court to keep the injunction in place, but to muzzle his client from participating in the local political process.
“Shouldn’t someone who sets it in motion and then changes their mind bear some responsibility,” the judge asked.
Marbury said there was no specific wording in the contract preventing Sheehan from speaking her mind.
“She engaged in political discourse, which is her right. She didn’t subvert or remove the benefit of the bargain for the town,” he said.
Marbury said negotiations between Sheehan and the town were initially cordial but after she expressed some misgivings, she said she felt bullied by Board of Selectmen Chairman Rick Morgan.
Sheehan claims that Morgan told her she had a binding agreement with the town because they had shaken hands on the deal and that if she refused to sign, the town would file suit.
Sager told the judge that Morgan last met with Sheehan on Aug. 14 and that she had two days to review the purchase and sales agreement with her legal counsel before she signed it on Aug. 16.
Judge Ignatious is expected to issue a ruling in about 30 days.