Cohasset Citizens’ Petition to reimburse Gjesteby for legal expenses debated by advisors

Advisor George Chamillard said this matter occurred in a very dark period in town. “To reopen this issue from the past is not in the best interests of the town. This all happened two years ago; it could have been brought up at other town meetings. It’s kind of long in the tooth.”

Tom Gruber made a good first stab at explaining the complicated background behind Selectman Martha Gjesteby’s $9,226.52 legal bill amassed while successfully defending herself from unsubstantiated allegations made against her by the then Cohasset Board of Selectmen. Note that selectmen’s charges and her defense involved the same meeting, until they attempted to charge her a second time for an error made by the town clerk’s office.

Initially, Gjesteby thought she was being accused of criminal charges. Accordingly, she obtained an attorney to defend herself. She had to prove her innocence.

Gruber explained that while the board publicly stated it was filing criminal charges against her, it actually ended up filing an ethics charge.

Selectman Karen Quigley explained that when the majority of any board brings charges against another board member or another board or commission, town counsel then represents the selectmen and the other selectman has to obtain their own attorney. Hence, Gjesteby’s attorney.

Advisor George Chamillard said this matter occurred in a very dark period in town. “To reopen this issue from the past is not in the best interests of the town. This all happened two years ago; it could have been brought up at other town meetings. It’s kind of long in the tooth.”

Advisor Bob Benson said he did not see the need for Gjesteby getting an attorney.

“This is more of the very dark side George alluded to,” Gruber said. “The complaint that was filed by the chair of the board with state ethics (after a public discussion) was filed from his home, on personal stationary. “There was no way for her to see a copy of that. Also, the response went to his home. She had no idea of whether it was criminal, civil or what the action was until she was found innocent. The chairman was involved in creating the action. And it was filed as a private document and not a public document.”

 “I once had a complaint lodged against me,” Advisor Lee Jenkins said.

Gruber responded: “You didn’t lodge a counter complaint, The board of selectmen violated the open meeting law. “

“I’m in favor of this article,” Vice Chair Nan Roth said. “Martha incurred an insulting lawsuit against her. It was inappropriate and secret, and a proper complaint would not have been made that way. She was threatened. I can totally understand her need to hire a lawyer in this situation. This complaint was so inappropriate.”

It should be noted here that Gjesteby, recovering from a broken hip, was pulled into an illegal executive board of selectmen session and told if she resigned from the board of selectmen her fellow board members would not file criminal charges against her.

Advisor Lynda Mooney said she wanted to see a breakdown of those bills.

Tanya Bodell, Advisor secretary, said: “Anybody who is serving in official capacity for the town should be covered. The town has insurance; it should be paid for out of that account.

Russ Bonetti, who was stopped from responding to Bob Benson’s statement that individuals who file complaints against town officials are “cowards, hiding behind the cloak of anonymity” said the town needed to pull some sort of policy about this together.

[Editor’s note: the Ethics Law is set up in such a way as to protect complainants from retaliation.]

Advisors will take a vote on this citizens’ petition at their next meeting.

This is the article we ran in our newspaper and blog on January 9, 2013

Cohasset Selectmen file complaint against Gjesteby

On Tuesday Cohasset Selectmen voted to turn in Selectman Martha Gjesteby to the Attorney General for having allegedly violated the criminal conflict of interest law by sharing a confidential ”privileged” document with a member of the public.

Directly after selectmen voted to turn in Gjesteby she turned the tables on them and said she was going to turn all of them into the Attorney General regarding an open meeting law complaint and had the complaint forms ready to go. All she had to do was sign them, she said. She planned to make that decision as early as Wednesday, she said, after meeting with her attorney in a private meeting room outside of selectmen’s office. The rest of the selectmen were in an executive session…discussing what else, the illegal town manager’s new contract to start July 1.

Gjesteby’s attorney, Brandon H Moss of Murphy, Hesse Toomey & Lehane (Quincy office)  said Gjesteby had hardly done anything criminal in seeking legal advice on an issue before the selectmen, and doubted she had even breached any ethics laws.

Moss added that the document in question appeared to be a public document in all respects, as it was not marked attorney / client or privileged. No one has seen the document in question but it appears to deal with the question of selectmen’s town e-mail accounts, and does the illegal town manager have the right to ‘troll’ through any of their accounts looking for stuff he can use against them?

Even Town Counsel Paul DeRensis appeared to agree with Moss that Gjesteby had not broken any laws…”yet,” but might do so if she filed a public complaint and supplied the  ‘privileged” document to the press through an open meeting law complaint. DeRensis suggested that if Gjesteby did file, she should to make the document available to the attorney general but not to the press, to preserve the board’s relationship with counsel that he referred to as the sanctity of the attorney client privilege.  Gjesteby said she would seek the advice of her counsel on that matter, but did not feel her 5-page letter to the selectmen on various matters had been addressed at all.

Moss said Gjesteby’s complaint revolved around the board’s Dec. 18th agenda that Moss said was defective in regard to not itemizing the discussion of contracts and with whom the contract was about, and that sounds like another  Milanoski contract discussion, because the board had more discussions about Milanoski’s contract than it does almost anything else in the world.

Gjesteby said until recently she did not realize that employees (read Milanoski) could go into her e-mail and see everything. “Big Brother is here already.”

DeRensis said he agreed that the selectmen needed to protect the attorney client privilege. “Town employees are all part of the institution, “ he stressed, adding that it was important that “only the five of you should review it,” not everyone else. We can address that going forward.”

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