Cohasset Advisors split in 2 over reimbursing Gjesteby’s legal bills

Cohasset advisors voted 4-4 (no action) with one abstention to not reimburse Selectman Martha Gjesteby for legal fees generated for her by the 2012 board of selectmen when they filed a criminal ethics complaint against her. Advisors’ role in the matter is that of a recommending body to town meeting that will vote on this and other warrant artifices at a November 17th Special Town Meeting.

Voting in favor of reimbursing Gjesteby the $9,226.52 in legal fees were Advisory Chair Peter Pescatore, Vice Chair Nan Roth, Clerk Rich Fitzpatrick and John Chapman. Advisors against were George Chamillard, Lynda Mooney, Tanya Bodell and Bob Benson.

Advisor Leland Jenkins, who was on the board of selectmen that filed the criminal charges against Gjesteby, did not vote on the issue but sat in the audience and (illegally) participated in the discussion. At one point he asked Tom Gruber, spokesman for petitioners, if Gruber had ever read Gjesteby’s privileged e-mails, and stated that it was rumored that he had. Gruber said the last time he had been in the Gjesteby’s home was to visit with Arne, Martha’s husband and a fellow Rotarian, shortly before Arne died. Gruber said he had never read her privileged e-mails and is in fact is in Florida for a good portion of the winter and was there when all of this happened.

Mooney and other advisors asked Gruber if Gjesteby had received a letter from the Ethics Commission. Jenkins said he assumed there was a missing letter – a letter that was sent to Martha that they hadn’t seen. Gruber said Gjesteby had received a copy of the letter sent to Paul Carlson, nothing more, but it was not sent to her by the Ethics Commission.

Selectman Karen Quigley commented that the Ethics Commission process is set up as an anonymous process to protect both the the complainant and the defendant and that unless the Commission deems the charges warrant further investigation, a person may not even be notified that anything was filed against them. 

Mooney then asked if the selectmen may have had a weaker remedy to deal with Gjesteby’s having confided in a third-party (completely missing the point that the Attorney General had dismissed the complaint).

Chapman said although Gjesteby was charged with a criminal act, he hadn’t heard anything about her seeking personal gain. He wondered if there was any discussion about personal benefit in the minutes.   

Mooney added she did not see from reading the law that the action Gjesteby took had to benefit her.

Gruber said there were references to a lengthy discussion in the redacted minutes, but nothing was said about personal gain.

“One could construe that she was being unfairly persecuted on this whole thing,” Pescatore said. He added that Gjesteby filed the Open Meeting Law complaint against selectmen to prove that she was unfairly persecuted.

Advisors said they would like to see a breakdown of the legal invoice Gjesteby received from  Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane but Gruber said Gjesteby was not willing to share the invoice with advisors as it is attorney/client privileged information.

“Our attorneys advised us of what to do,” Jenkins said. (It’s hard to believe that Town Counsel advised the selectmen to file criminal charges against Gjesteby because the night before Carlson wrote the letter Town Counsel said multiple times at a public meeting of the board that Gjesteby “had not broken any law”.) 

Bodell said “Frankly, the more complex this gets the more uncomfortable I get. We don’t have all the information and now we’re being asked to rescind that decision. I don’t think we should recommend it.”

Fitzpatrick noted that Gjesteby had been exonerated by the Attorney General.  “This issue was brought up at a meeting that violated the Open Meeting Law, she wasn’t given notice and it put her in a difficult position. As a matter of fairness she should be reimbursed. “

Paul Carlson filed an ethics complain under this statute, standards of conduct:

G.L c. 268A, Section 23

(c) No current or former officer or employee of a state, county or municipal agency shall knowingly, or with reason to know: (1) accept employment or engage in any business or professional activity which will require him to disclose confidential information which he has gained by reason of his official position or authority;( 2) improperly disclose material or data within the exemptions to the definition of public records as defined by section seven of chapter four, and were acquired by him in the course of his official duties nor use such information to further his personal interest.

1. Gjesteby had to hire her own attorney. Once she was accused of a criminal violation, town counsel could not talk with her or advise her. 

2. Gjesteby had no personal interest in this matter. She did not release anything to the public via the press or in any other way. She confided in a third party. She asked that party for advice. There is no section of the Conflict of Interest Law that prohibits a Selectman from contracting an advisor with a legal background on a possible response. There is no section that can be cited as a ground for a violation. And…the Attorney General agrees.

3. It’s ironic that Gjesteby was charged with doing what Mike Milanoski actually was doing – reading attorney client privileged e-mails from town counsel to the board of selectmen (at least to Gjesteby) regarding his own contract.

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed