Public process ends up in secret … Comcast holds cards … Hampton informs Rye of sewer termination … CIP back on track? … Dan Brown at center stage

Staff of Rye Reflections

Up, up and away …

Hard-packed sand with the ocean breeze at your back is the perfect formula for Rye's version of "The Kite Rider" at Jenness Beach. (Gail Beamer photo)

Selectmen summon beach commissioner
to non-public session, then seal minutes

Why was the public barred from a Rye Board of Selectmen meeting with the Beach Commission chairman?

Why were the minutes sealed from public inspection?

The chronology in brief:

Labor Day Weekend, 2008 — No lifeguards on Rye beaches.

Sept. 22 — At a public Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting the incident is reviewed and the beach commission announces that the head of the lifeguards will not be invited back.

March 17 — A public Beach Commission meeting includes discussion of five candidates for a commission seat held for 10 years by Tim Sanborn, who is seeking re-election. Sanborn leaves the meeting room during the discussion. Peter Kane is chosen by Commissioners Michael Labrie and Jack Panopoulos. Still in open session, Sanborn returns and is told of the decision.

March 23 — At a public BOS meeting Labrie presents Kane's nomination for approval. Kane is present and answers questions. Selectmen Joe Mills tables the appointment and informs Labrie that he will be asked to attend a non-public BOS session. Asked by Rye Reflections under what category the non-public meeting will be held, Mills responds, "Personnel".

March 23 at 11 p.m. — Rye Reflections makes a formal request via email to BOS chairwoman Priscilla Jenness to hold the meeting in public, because the recommendation was made in public and "the public has the right to know any and all positions of the Board of Selectmen regarding this recommendation." There was no response.

March 26 — Non-public session is held, but the category is changed to "Reputation". After the 40-minute non-public meeting with Labrie, the BOS voted to seal the minutes, then returned at 6 p.m., long enough for Mills to make a motion approving the appointment of Kane. All voted in favor. It was unclear whose "reputation" prompted the non-public session. All four — Labrie, Panopoulos, Kane and Sanborn — are public officials.

April 3 — Rye Reflections sent a letter to Chairwoman Jenness stating that beach issues are of high public interest, that all proceedings had been in public prior to March 26 and that the minutes of the non-public session should be made public and the audio tape be made available to be listened to. There was no response.

April 6 — Commission chairman Labrie appeared before the BOS to discuss the subject of beach signs and prefaced his remarks by saying: "You're not going to yell at me tonight, are you?"

Signs of the times …

Selectmen have ordered new signs for entrances to town beaches at a cost of $1541.25. Also approved, starting Memorial Day weekend, was the placement of barrels at 13 beach locations.

Comcast controls clicker …

For N.H. towns who are renegotiating franchise agreements with Comcast it's like playing in a poker game with the cable company holding five aces.

Rye is among those finding itself drafting a renewal proposal that Priscilla Jenness, chair of the Board of Selectmen, calls a "one-way street". Attorney Katherine Miller of Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella, who represents Rye, admitted that Comcast has "an economic monopoly." What to do? At an April 16 Selectmen's meeting it was decided to make the term of the franchise agreement as short as possible and hope for more choices in the future. Jenness wanted to maintain the town's right to a public-access channel, although that option has been available and not used. Some towns broadcast governmental meetings.

Also discussed was use of wording that would allow for taxing the use of right-of-ways Comcast needs, but it was agreed Comcast would simply turn around and pass on those costs onto Rye consumers. Attorney Miller said issues such as improvement in service, price and channel choices could not be part of the agreement legally.

When it comes time to draw cards, Comcast will stick with its five aces.

June tune …

Reconstruction of Seavey Creek Bridge is now scheduled for completion on June 12. (Ken Palm photo)

Line in the sand …

The Town of Hampton has verified by letter that it will give the Town of Rye notice in 2012 of a termination of sewer service to about 400 homes and businesses in 2014. The action followed a March 10 vote by Hampton townspeople (See March story in Rye Reflections). The letter, signed by three of the five Hampton Selectmen, was referred to the Rye Sewer Commission for submission to town counsel (that means the legal fees will come out of the Sewer Commission's budget not the Selectmen's).

Selectman Joe Mills continues to maintain that the involvement of federal funds when the agreement was reached in 1992 precludes termination. Selectman Craig Musselman said, "I know of no precedent for it (the termination)." Interim Town Administrator Michael Farrell said, "The State of New Hampshire never knew this was being contemplated. They have yet to weigh in." And some in Hampton, including one member of the Hampton Board of Selectmen, think that if a similar warrant article were on the ballot next year it would be voted down, because voters didn't realize the Hampton sewer system has more than adequate capacity and that Rye paid Hampton about $93,000 for usage last year, not to mention $5 million in initial capital costs.


Capital idea …

Up until now the Rye Capital Improvement Program (CIP) was like a wounded bird, having trouble getting off the ground.

A CIP committee has been in operation since 2003 when the townspeople voted in the entity in conformance with New Hampshire RSA 674:7 as a way to coordinate capital projects among town departments.

Underlying concerns surfaced last fall when CIP meetings were being held in the same general time frame as annual budget meetings. The CIP felt it needed a clearer mandate and suggested it might function better under the Planning Board. But after two meetings the Selectmen decided budgetary matters were their purview.

CIP chairman Martin Klenke on April 20 presented the Selectmen with a seven-page document he planned to send to department heads with a schedule calling for department meetings in June and a possible public hearing on finalized priorities the second week of July. He specified that projects to be discussed must cost more than $10,000, must have a life of at least five years, may not entail recurring annual costs and may require bond financing. The schedule will prevent "bumping against the budget process," Klenke said.

Also included was a list of some projects that have been brought up:
The Selectmen agreed the present crunch makes it difficult to finance capital projects. Selectman Craig Musselman said, "We intend to give this a lot more attention this year." Selectman Mills reiterated that all the CIP is developing is a "wish list for a lot of people", adding, "maybe in four years it's going to change."

Klenke concluded that capital planning, even in a tight economy, is vital: "Otherwise you will wake up some morning and find you have a huge problem on your hands."

People in the news …

Rye on the Rocks …

May is a hot month for the Rye Town Museum.

The Historical Society's new exhibit opened on May 2 and a reception will be held on May 22 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Museum on 10 Parish Road, adjacent to the Rye Pubic Library to celebrate the exhibit, entitled "Rye on the Rocks: Stories from 400 Years on the Land."

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday from now until October. The exhibit tells stories of how people have used the land and water of Rye over the years and deals with current issues of development and conservation. For more information go to Rye Town Museum or call 964-7730 or 997-6742.

Low tide causes most boats in Rye Harbor to anchor in single file.(Jack Driscoll photo)

Quick index to back issues of Rye Crisp …

May, 2009