Ossipee — February 15, 2018 — The controversy surrounding efforts to pursue a town beach at Camp Sokokis came to an end earlier this week with the news that the property has been sold to new owners. John Seda and Paul Fitts, agents of Nashua-based Camp Sokokis, LLC and longtime seasonal Sokokis campers, purchased the property for $1.2 million, according to a deed recorded at Carroll County Registry of Deeds in Ossipee Feb. 8.
Over the course of the past six months, a welcome announcement that selectmen had negotiated a deal to finally give Ossipee residents a public beach on their namesake lake had dissolved into a divisive town issue and a lawsuit that hinged on the First Amendment.
At the Feb. 12 Ossipee Selectmen’s meeting, resident Kyle Copeland asked the board “what is the plan moving forward” with the beach now that Judge Amy Ignatius lifted the injunction barring Dianne Sheehan from selling her property. Selectman Robert Freeman, serving as chair of the meeting in Richard Morgan’s absence, simply said, “The plan is, the beach is over. It’s over. It’s over with. Done and over with.”
But there remain questions not answered as of press time despite an effort to reach the attorneys on both sides. After the Nov. 28 special town meeting vote narrowly failed to garner the two-thirds vote needed to allow the selectmen to borrow money to buy Camp Sokokis, the town filed a lawsuit accusing Sheehan.
The suit accused her of fraud and breach of contract for allegedly sabotaging the sale after she willingly entered into the $1.2 million agreement with the town. The fraud charge has since been dropped. It is unclear, however, if the town plans to continue on with the other charges and its quest to be reimbursed for expenses related to its case. As of the end of January, the town had spent $18,803.80 in legal fees plus engineering, advertising, and other related costs associated with bringing the plan to voters back in November.
Sheehan, through her Wolfeboro-based attorney Phillip Madbury, filed a counter-claim. The claim not only asked the judge to lift the temporary injunction but to dismiss the case against Sheehan altogether. The town wanted the injunction in place to allow voters another chance at approving the beach at March town meeting, free of Sheehan’s “interference.” The injunction was lifted Feb. 6. Sheehan is also seeking a judgment against the town for all damages incurred because of “the Town’s fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, duress, tortious interference with contractual relations and breach of contract” and that she be awarded all attorney’s fees she has shelled out defending herself.
The negotiations that led to Sheehan signing the purchase and sales agreement Aug. 16 happened at her lakefront kitchen table. The only people present that truly know what went on are Sheehan, her husband Bill, Morgan, and Town Administrator Ellen White. And both sides recount a different chain of events.
Sheehan claims that the Aug. 14 meeting was amicable, and she asked for a few changes to the draft sales agreement. About 48 hours later, Sheehan was presented with a revised agreement, but by then had second thoughts about selling the campground to the town and expressed those concerns to Morgan.
Also, according to the claim, it was at that time she offered to donate a parcel of lakefront property to the town to use as a public beach rather than selling the whole campground property. She claims that when she asked for more time, Morgan became agitated, angry, and his demeanor turned threatening and intimidating. The claim also alleges he told Sheehan that they had a handshake agreement from the previous meeting, and that if Sheehan did not sign, the town would sue her and win.
“Feeling backed into a corner, and tricked into believing that she had someone (sic) blundered in the process resulting in her being in an irrecoverable position, Sheehan panicked and signed the purchase agreement, feeling as though it was her only option,” the claim reads. The town has denied these allegations.
Sheehan also claims that, during negotiations, she was assured the town would maintain the campground and use the revenue generated from operating it to repay the bond. Then, in September he announced that 15 of the 45 campsites would be removed to create a public parking area. In October, he announced that the campground would be eliminated altogether.
Two days after the Nov. 28 vote failed, Seda and Fitts signed a purchase and sales agreement to buy Camp Sokokis for $1.2 million. They were also granted their request to intervene in the case because now they, too, had a financial interest in its outcome.
There remains an open civil case as well. That claim, filed by residents Joy Gagnon and Josh Arnold, alleges the town was unprepared for the voter turnout at the Nov. 28 special town meeting, leaving many voters out in the cold to wait, unable to hear the meeting. The claim asks the court to order another special town meeting and revote and that Ossipee develop a plan to better accommodate voters in the future.
Arnold said he was one of many people who waited outside the town hall in frigid temperatures, unable to actively participate in the meeting portion prior to casting of ballots. Gagnon was inside the meeting hall, standing alongside her eight-year-old son Isaac who got up to the microphone asking the packed room to vote in favor of the beach. He would later be publicly commended by the selectmen for his bravery and “intestinal fortitude.”
As of Feb. 12, a hearing date in that case had not been set.
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