Anger mounts in Barnstead as second select board member resigns

  • Barnstead selectman Lori Mahar speaks to the residents about all the Facebook postings about her at the Select Board meeting on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Incoming Barnstead selectmen chair Edward Tasker and selectman Lori Mahar at the meeting at town hall on Tuesday night, March 26, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 4/3/2019 5:31:44 PM

For the second time in recent weeks, a select board member in Barnstead has resigned, and, yet again, those in attendance at the meeting grew angry, saying their voices were ignored while town officials handpicked a successor.

The shocking exit by Sean Dunne – his letter of resignation was submitted Monday at a board workshop and read aloud by chairman Ed Tasker during Tuesday’s weekly meeting – reflects a deep schism in a town that has criticized officials for over-stepping their boundaries, conducting town business with little regard to transparency and twice bypassing a candidate for the board who had finished third on Election Day in a race for two open slots.

Former board chairwoman Priscilla Tiede left a meeting last month in tears, and, in a show of support and compassion, was followed outside by her main board allies, Dunne and colleague Rick Duane. Tiede read her own letter of resignation at the board meeting last week. She was replaced by Diane Beijer, who hadn’t even been on the ballot.

After Dunne called it quits this week, the board appointed and swore in Paula Penney on Tuesday, again ignoring third-place finisher Gary Madden. That created tension and strong dissent, a scene that has become quite common in Barnstead in recent weeks and months.

“You sit right here like we’re a bunch of little kids,” Barnstead resident Matthew Furtney told the board at the town hall.  “You did it with Diane and now you’re doing it again.”

After a quick vote to appoint Penny with little discussion, others chimed in.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that maybe some people got together and already decided this without any discussion,” said Fran Incrovato.

Board members defended their choices by citing the vast experience brought to the table by the two new members. Meanwhile, Dunne and Duane have exchanged angry words with Lori Mahar, who sits at the core of this political infighting, viewed by board colleagues as a chronic complainer, while many in town appreciate her outspoken nature and passion for open government.

Tiede and Dunne, in fact, both blamed Mahar in their resignation notices, citing her confrontational nature as their reasons for quitting.

Dunne’s exit speech, read by Tasker Tuesday, said, in part, “Over the last several weeks, the meetings have become a toxic environment that has created a lot of animosity within our community. I am not able to or willing to continue working as a selectman alongside Lori Mahar. She has led our community to believe that this board is corrupt and underhanded.”

Mahar was not surprised to learn that both Tiede and Dunne blamed her for their departures. She has long contended that the select board has bullied her and appointed its own people in an effort to push her out the door.

“These people, this board has been nasty to me since day one,” Mahar said by phone, before Tuesday’s meeting. “They don’t like me because what I am questioning is the way we do things.”

Mahar, in fact, has taken her displeasure and suspicions about the board to official channels, filing complaints to the state’s public integrity office, the governor’s office and the Belknap County Attorney’s office.

She and others in town have criticized the board for conducting land deals using the wrong statute to create more freedom for itself at the expense of public input.

Specifically, Barnstead resident Patricia Morris, an attorney who researched the matter on her own time, said the town did not do its due diligence when negotiating with Cory Halvorsen.

His name was attached to the LLC-based deal, and he served as the public figure while the town tried to sell a particular piece of land, to be used for a sports complex later on. That deal is dead, and individuals critical of the board said the town should have been more open about the process.

Some of those issues were discussed last Monday night, when the board held a special workshop to hammer out procedural rules and guidelines that town officials should be following.

By then, Dunne said he had already made up his mind about leaving after four years on the board, focusing his resentment on Mahar.

“She is very divisive and creating a lot of tension in town,” said Dunne, who was reached by phone and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. “I can’t work with her anymore. People have to trust the people they elected. We have no gain at stake. We are taxpayers as well, and in a small  community, one person will ma   ke an accusation that selectmen did t his or that and it runs like wildfire. Then people believe we do things that are wrong.”

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