Beautification Issues Grip Sunapee Town Meeting

At the Sunapee Deliberative Session February 3, two petition warrant articles about projects and funding of the Beautification Oversight Committee (BOC) sparked amendments that consumed a big chunk of meeting time and voter energy and had people on both sides questioning the process and each other.

The majority of town business including the town’s $5,691,897 budget resulted in little or no debate.

Article 19, to fund engineering for a “shovel ready” project to sewer around Perkins Pond brought Robin Saunders to the podium. On behalf of the Perkins Pond Protective Association, she presented a slide show to explain the project’s importance before voters moved the article to the ballot.

However, things took a turn early in the session. About 100 people including town officials and department heads were in attendance at the high school gym.

After moving a group of planning board articles to the ballot, Town Moderator Harry Gale said he was going “to suspend the rules.” The last two Articles 36 and 37 would be considered next and voted upon by secret ballot. He then instructed voters to get one red and one blue card for later use. This was requested by five voters, Gale said.

Gale then read Article 36 that sought to give voters at the annual town meeting the authority over expenditures and projects funded by the town’s beautification trust fund. That authority now rests in the hands of the town manager under the direction of the selectmen.

Charlie Smith stood and offered an amendment to name “the Board of Selectmen as agents to expend.” People rose to speak for and against and to question the amendment.

It appears to “negate” the purpose of the article, said Spec Bowers.

Later, Artie Osborne and Jean Chandler challenged the legality of the amendment. Gale said the subject of the article was unchanged and the amendment would be allowed.

Voters stood to be counted and the amendment passed (39-35). Gale then directed people to vote by secret ballot on the amended article. It also passed (47-31).

Gale moved to Article 37: “Are you in favor of keeping and maintaining the Sunapee Town property situated in Sunapee Harbor and known as the Lake Front Harbor area (Old Steam Boat Landing), which area is adjacent to the public restrooms, and the Ben Mere/Gazebo lawn area open and green without a maze, stepping stones or additional granite benches?”

Donna Gazelle, chairman of the BOC, offered an amendment: To keep the area in “good condition, with any modifications or additions however the Board of Selectmen decrees it to be?”

After debate, the amendment passed (40-27) and the amended article by secret ballot passed (40-24), which will maintain the status quo. The selectmen now have authority over the property.

While many voters looked comfortable with the flow of events, many others said they were confused. Others expressed frustration when it came to Articles 36 and 37 and questioned whether the process had been contrived. They felt it was not open and democratic.

“Why vote on the amended article?” one person asked of a voter sitting in front of them. “It won’t change anything.”

“What are we voting on?” a woman asked privately of others sitting next to her. She then headed to the table with a red voting card in hand.

Others said the articles were frivolous and a slap in the face of volunteer efforts.

After handling questions 36 and 37, Gale called for a break, shortly before 9 p.m.  About 10 minutes later, Gale directed voters to the remaining 25 articles.

At the end of the town’s 2009 deliberative session, three Articles (20, 36 and 37) were amended.

After Saunders spoke about the Perkins Pond, Recreation Director Scott Blewitt addressed Article 20. He offered an amendment detailing specific recreational elements that could be built on Ski Tow Hill. Voters moved it to the ballot.

Only a few other articles prompted debate, questions or comment.

You can read the updated warrant articles on the town website.

Election day is March 10, the second session of Town Meeting under SB 2.

“I was drained after the first two articles,” one voter said. “I stayed ‘til the end but no one seemed to have energy left to ask questions or debate much of anything.”

Specifics on other Sunapee town warrant articles will follow in later posts.

Editorial disclosure: The author of this post is a Sunapee resident that signed petition article 36 and 37  presented to board of selectmen for the 2009 town warrant.

One Response

  1. Why not let the voters decide these things in March, rather than derail the process. That’s what happened last Tuesday at Town Meeting when it came to articles 36 and 37. It sure looked like a group of people managed the meeting and got the articles moved up to a convenient hour to get what they wanted.

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