In January 2013 Gjesteby endured the public humiliation of having criminal charges filed against her by her own board. On June 28, 2013 the State Ethics Commission informed then retired selectman Paul Carlson that based on its careful review, “We have decided that this matter does not warrant further action.”
Petitioners’ motion on Article 14 will ask the Town to appropriate $ 9,226.52 to reimburse Selectmen Gjesteby for legal expenses incurred in defending herself against criminal accusations made by the Board of Selectmen, from which she was cleared, such accusations having been initiated by the Board of Selectmen in an illegal meeting. Further, to meet this appropriation $9,226.52 be hereby transferred from free cash in the treasury of the Town.
The interesting question about petitioners’ article is that town officials are not sure what the petitioners’ article “is”.
If it is an unpaid bill it requires a 9/10th vote (at STM).
If it were considered to be Compensation it would require a 2/3rds vote.
If it is simply a request to reimburse Selectman Gjesteby for legal expenses that she has already paid, it may not need Town Meeting to vote at all. It may only require Town Manager Chris Senior to certify that the bill is valid, not excessive, etc. and pay her.
Gjesteby has submitted to the Town Manager a copy of the bill she paid her law firm in 2013, along with a letter stating that she wishes to be reimbursed for her expenses. According to town officials, the Department of Revenue will make the final determination of what the petitioners’ article is: unpaid bill, Compensation, or reparations.
Why did Gjesteby not ask the Town to reimburse her expenses in 2013?
Answer: because the acting town manager that initiated the criminal charges against her was still in office and he was the person who would have had to certify her legal bill. At that point in time the acting town manager wasn’t paying anybody’s bills. Conservation agent Paul Shea’s bills were being refused. Town counsel couldn’t get his bills paid, either. Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski was a bull in a China shop.
The Town (thank God) hired a professional Town Manager early in 2014. Residents felt badly about Gjesteby’s treatment by the now former acting town manager bills and decided to take Gjesteby’s legal bill to the Fall special town meeting, not wishing to get tied up with Annual Town Meeting and Annual Town Elections. Approximately 130 residents signed a citizens’ petition asking that she be reimbursed.
Several weeks ago Select Chair Diane Kennedy told petitioners that she was not going to bring the Gjesteby reimbursement article before her board, saying that she was against having Gjesteby be paid anything.
Finally, Kennedy permitted First Signer Tom Gruber to present the article to the Board of Selectmen but at the same time declared there would be no public comment on the article, in spite of the fact that three of the 10 first signers were in attendance and wished to be heard.
What is the legal ramification for the town’s paying this bill?
Selectmen are indemnified for official acts. Gjesteby’s hiring of an attorney to protect herself from criminal charges filed by her board was an official act and the Attorney General ruled in her favor. She was unable to utilize Town Counsel because he had to defend the majority of the board, although even he stated at a meeting that Martha had broken no law. Nevertheless, then Selectmen Paul Carlson and Leland Jenkins and Selectwoman Diane Kennedy filed criminal charges against her.
Gjesteby needed legal representation in order to deal with the original ethics complaint that was initiated by the Board of Selectmen; a second ethics matter which was threatened by the board of Selectmen, and an Open Meeting Law matter arising out of the same meeting at which the original ethics complaint originated. Atty. Brandon Moss spent 10 hours ($2,500) of his 36-hour invoice at selectmen’s meeting. Be assured that Selectmen went out of their way to make sure Moss was heard at the very end of two meetings.
Petitioners say they hope this issue will result in the Town Manager looking over Gjesteby’s legal bill, consulting with her counsel, and paying her the reparations she deserves.
At a recent selectmen’s meeting Selectman Kevin McCarthy wondered if the Town could be sued over this issue. Selectman Karen Quigley reminded McCarthy that the Attorney General found the Town guilty and that the complaint was lodged in an illegal meeting, the attorney general reprimanded the Town saying the Town had to replay some of its actions. “Kind of had to worry about evidence now,” she said.
If the Town should refuse to indemnify Gjesteby, several petitioners said they are prepared to take “this” further, but did not say what that action might be. Gjesteby said she had no comment.
None of this is happening at a good time for the Town, which is now fully engaged in the Coughlin lawsuit against the Town. It does not look good for the Board of Selectmen to be attacking one of its own colleagues, particularly one who is 86 years old. It appears to be elder harassment, although anyone who knows Martha knows that she is an extremely tough cookie.
Selectman Gaumer stated at the last meeting that he did not feel that Gjesteby was exonerated by the Attorney General. What part of does “We have decided that this matter does not warrant further action, ” does Gaumer not understand ?
Attend Monday’s Special and vote in favor of Article 14.© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed