It appears Cohasset Selectman Martha Gjesteby can’t win even when she wins. But all is not lost.
Over a period of 2 months Gjesteby spent $9,000 plus in legal bills defending herself from a criminal ethics complaint three members of her board filed against her in January 2013.
In an illegal executive session, her colleagues told her if she didn’t resign they would file criminal charges, which is in itself criminal to do, particularly when you do it in an illegal executive session. This is the 86-year-old Gjesteby’s fourth (un-consecutive) term.
In June 28, 2013 the State Ethics Commission dropped its investigation against Gjesteby saying there was no finding (i.e., the complaint was bogus). On the very eve Selectmen voted to file criminal charges, Town Counsel Paul DeRensis said that Gjesteby had broken no laws. Nonetheless, Gjesteby’s board filed criminal charges. It was important. After all, she had beaten the popular 40-something Ted Carr in the last election.
Selectmen filing against her were former chair Paul Carlson, current chair Diane Kennedy (who may be a distant cousin) and Leland Jenkins (a very distant friend) and currently a member of the advisory committee. Advisors voted 4-4 (no action) on the article. It’s important to note that officers on the advisory committee voted in favor of Gjesteby being compensated.
At last night’s selectmen’s meeting Selectman Martha Gjesteby recused herself from discussion, but Selectman Chair Diane Kennedy refused to step down, saying she didn’t have to. So of course we’re wondering why Gjesteby had to step down, particularly when all selectmen are involved in the money issue. No vote was taken on the article. Select Vice Chair Steve Gaumer will talk with the Town Manager and Town Counsel today to discuss legalities of the citizens’ petition for Gjesteby.
Because this issue involves the board of selectmen, town counsel referred this matter to the Department of Revenue (DOR). Once DOR sees the legal paperwork, it will give the town a definitive answer. Absent the paperwork, even if town meeting votes in favor of the Gjesteby petition article, nothing can be paid. Petitioners did attach a bill to the petition article, but it was not detailed enough, it appears. It is this blogger’s understanding that DOR is standing by to respond to the petitioners’ article as soon as the Town supplies the requested document (detailed legal bill).
Monday night’s special town meeting will decide a piece of the issue next week. The vote won’t be an easy; if there are 200 voters at the meeting Gjesteby article has to win 180 of them. Town counsel says it has to be put on the warrant as an unpaid bill.
Selectmen Karen Quigley wondered why this very complex issue was not considered by selectmen a little earlier, particularly when the citizens’ petition article was filed with the selectmen’s office late in September.
Vice chair Steve Gaumer said the issue was precedent setting. Patting himself on the back, Gaumer said “When we for this office we run for it not because were babes in the woods.”
“This issue is a bigger issue than a personal realm,” selectman Quigley responded. “A group of elected officials told another elected official they were going to bring criminal charges against that individual. I don’t think it’s strange at all. Town counsel works for the elected board. Once the majority takes a stand, he can’t defend the other elected official. Again. Town counsel advised the board that Gjesteby had not broken the law. This is what I heard sitting in the audience at that meeting” (Quigley was in-between terms in 2013).
Select chair Diane Kennedy interrupted Quigley saying she didn’t want to go there. Kennedy announced early on that she would not entertain any public comment; in spite of the fact three of the first 10 signers were in the audience. “I want to keep this conversation focused and high level, said Kennedy, who voted to file criminal charges against her colleague when she had been told by town counsel that Gjesteby was not guilty of any crime.”
(Yeah, keep it high level and focused, Diane.)
Quigley said it is expected that people will put themselves out there and will bear the brunt of most situations, but “not if they are unjustly accused of something.”
“I don’t want to go down that road,” Kennedy said. Again. (Let’s not discuss what asses the selectmen were to their elderly colleague who is elderly in years only.)
Selectman Kevin McCarthy wondered if the town could be sued if it paid Gjesteby.
Quigley told McCarthy that the Attorney General found the town guilty and that the complaint was lodged in an illegal meeting and that the Attorney General reprimanded the town and had to replay some of its actions. Kind of had to worry about evidence now, she said.
Gaumer said while all of this surely happened, Gjesteby was still not exonerated. He also questioned the large amount of the bill, for such a trite accusation.
Gaumer could not know that half of Gjesteby’s legal bill was in Paul Carlson’s keeping her attorney waiting to speak until the end of two or three meetings. Maybe the town should bill Carlson for 8-10 hours.
Here’s a bright thought.
In the future Town Counsel will be called upon to work with citizens’ petitions in order that they do not fall apart in the 11th hour. This all sounds so familiar. We think Ronnie McMorris did institute town counsel involvement with petitioner’s articles when she was chairman of the board of selectmen.
And then all these good intentions just fell by the wayside.
Martha Gjesteby, who is part of an age group for whom citizens are building a senior center, is left holding a very big bag, through no fault of her own.
Please attend special town meeting and vote to compensate Martha for some of the expense she had to endure through no fault of her own. Realize that she will pay, in any respect; one third of any compensation she might win at special town meeting would be be paid in taxes.
Even when Martha wins, she loses.
Your vote at Special Town Meeting will determine how much she loses.
Everything or one third.© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed