Ossipee—January 10, 2017—Two Ossipee residents are taking their town to court because of what they claim was unpreparedness at the polls in November’s special town meeting on purchasing a beach. They claim people’s right to vote was affected by inadequate facilities and staffing.
On Nov. 28, Ossipee residents were asked to vote on buying Dianne Sheehan’s Camp Sokokis property for use as a town beach. The purchase price was $1.2 million. The property consists of 53 acres with 200 feet of beach frontage, room for 40 parking spaces and access to Route 16B from private Gretchen Road. Town officials said this would be their only chance to buy a beach on the lake.
The proposal received a 297-171 majority vote, but it required a two-thirds majority to pass.
The civil complaint was filed by Joy Gagnon and Joshua Arnold in Carroll County Superior Court on Dec. 27. They have until Feb. 10 to serve the town. Arnold is the founder of G.A.L.A. (Global Awareness Local Action).
In an email Monday, he explained: “I was one of many people who attended Ossipee’s Special Town Meeting but was unable to participate — unable to make a motion and unable to hear and consider the comments from my fellow citizens — because the room was not large enough to accommodate everyone who attended, so myself, like many others, were stuck outside in line, unaware that the actual town meeting was coming to close and moving to a vote. This should be unacceptable to anyone who believes in Town Meeting, no matter where you stand on the town beach.”
Gagnon’s 8-year-old son Isaac spoke at the town meeting, saying, “I want a beach because I want somewhere to go swimming that’s not so far away.”
Gagnon told the Sun Monday that people running the meeting didn’t realize how many had to stand outside. “They normally expect no more than 200 and there was 500 (people).”
Gagnon said the people outside not only couldn’t hear but couldn’t even get to where they could register as voters or get handouts to explain how the meeting would operate.
According to the complaint, “The special town meeting at Ossipee Town Hall, Nov. 28, 2017, was not held at a large enough space to accommodate the number of residents in attendance, as required by RSA 91-A:2.”
Arnold and Gagnon referred to the state’s right to know law, which addresses open meetings and says: “Each part of a meeting required to be open to the public shall be audible or otherwise discernible to the public at the location specified in the meeting notice as the location of the meeting.”
“The plaintiffs ask the court to order another special town meeting and revote that is held in a larger setting with accommodations for all in attendance,” wrote Gagnon and Arnold.
“Ossipee will also be ordered to design a plan to accommodate all voters in the future by finding a secondary location for town meetings.”
The town also is hoping for a second bite at the apple but for a different reason.
At a recent Superior Court hearing, the town of Ossipee was represented by Richard Sager of Sager and Smith PLLC of Ossipee, who believes Sheehan broke with implied good faith and fair dealings when she lobbied voters to oppose the sale after signing and agreement to sell to the the town. Sheehan even put up signs on her property, urging people to vote no.
Sager persuaded Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius to temporarily bar Sheehan from selling to another party. Now, Ignatius is determining whether the injunction should remain in place.
The town can ask voters at its March 13-14 town meeting to reconsider the proposal. Sager would like to prevent Sheehan from speaking at that meeting.
Meanwhile, Sheehan’s attorney, Phillip Marbury of the Law Office of Marbury and Marbury in Wolfeboro, argued that it is a First Amendment case and thus the judge should allow his client to sell.
“There is nothing in this contract that prohibits or restricts my client, Dianne Sheehan, from participating in a political process related to the town of Ossipee,” said Marbury.
“The Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of New Hampshire have emphasized over and over again there is no form of speech more highly protected than political speech,” he said
A third party consisting of John Seda and Paul Fitts are intervening. They seek to purchase the property and to have the injunction lifted.