Webster town treasurer illegally bought 3 acres of town land for $7,000

  • Bruce Johnson, at the time chair of the Webster Board of Selectmen, listens to a question during a budget hearing several years ago. He was later elected to town treasurer. ELODIE REED

  • The entrance of Walker Pond Road in Webster where former town treasurer Bruce Johnson bought land. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Two property lots on Walker Pond Road, a private way in Webster, were improperly sold to Bruce Johnson. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Published: 8/30/2021 5:03:23 PM

The Webster town treasurer has resigned after being fined $1,200 for illegally buying two pieces of town property adjacent to his home on Walker Pond.

On Monday, Bruce Johnson, 64, of Webster, pleaded no contest and was sentenced for acquiring two empty lots “other than by competitive bidding,” as required by state law and town policy.

“He said he knew the town owned the land and he wanted to buy the land to ensure that it was not developed,” investigator Michael Russell of the Merrimack County Attorney’s Office wrote in court documents:

In October 2019, Johnson purchased two 1½ acre lots across the street from his waterfront home at 140 Walker Pond Road for a total of $7,000. Johnson, formerly a selectman in town beginning in 2010, was elected treasurer in 2019.

The lots have since been merged to form a single piece of property located along a private dirt road that leads to several camps on Walker Pond. Other lots along the road are owned by the town or the local water district.

State law says nobody holding public government office shall buy real estate or other items or sell anything if the total value is more than $200 “except by open competitive bidding.” Johnson was found guilty of a Class B misdemeanor and fined $1,200, and has resigned. Even though the property was acquired illegally, it’s unclear if the transaction can be reversed.

Merrimack County Attorney Paul Halvorsen declined to comment further Tuesday, saying that the case could involve civil action because of “property issues.”

In 2017, Johnson signed a policy as chairman of the Webster Select Board that governing the sale of town property. That policy stipulated that town properties should be sold via auction, realtor or sealed bids.

“All sales shall be properly advertised and posted with a deadline,” the policy states. “Properties will be sold in a consistent and fair manner, and with the best interest of the Town in mind.” However, the policy also states that the Select Board has the power to waive provisions of the policy.

Johnson did not return a voicemail message seeking comment Tuesday.

Webster Town Administrator Dana Hadley was also unavailable.

The Town of Webster also has a fraud policy, signed in 2015 by Johnson when he was chairman of the Select Board, which defines fraud as “intentional deception or misapp ropriation of resources.”

“In all cases involving monetary losses to the Town, the Town will pursue recovery of losses,” according to the policy.

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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