Orford voters oust Selectboard chairman; seek better town communication

As the clock neared midnight on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, Orford voters Shawn Garran, left, and James D'Amico wait to hear the results of the Selectboard election in Orford, N.H. Town Meeting had just ended, but the two waited with about 30 other residents to hear the results. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

As the clock neared midnight on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, Orford voters Shawn Garran, left, and James D'Amico wait to hear the results of the Selectboard election in Orford, N.H. Town Meeting had just ended, but the two waited with about 30 other residents to hear the results. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Larry Taylor is sworn in by Debbie Hadlock, Orford's town clerk and tax collector, for a three-year term on the Selectboard after the Orford Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Orford, N.H. Taylor beat out Selectboard Chairman John Adams for the seat. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Larry Taylor is sworn in by Debbie Hadlock, Orford's town clerk and tax collector, for a three-year term on the Selectboard after the Orford Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Orford, N.H. Taylor beat out Selectboard Chairman John Adams for the seat. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Orford Road Committee Chairman Charles Smith Jr. makes a point about an article during discussions at the Orford Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Orford Road Committee Chairman Charles Smith Jr. makes a point about an article during discussions at the Orford Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Orford Selectboard Chairman John Adams listens during Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Orford. In ballot voting tabulated at the end of the night, Adams lost his seat to longtime resident Larry Taylor. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Orford Selectboard Chairman John Adams listens during Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Orford. In ballot voting tabulated at the end of the night, Adams lost his seat to longtime resident Larry Taylor. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-13-2024 5:43 PM

Modified: 03-14-2024 5:32 PM


ORFORD — Selectboard Chairman John Adams was soundly defeated in his bid for a fifth term at Tuesday night’s annual Town Meeting, losing to longtime resident Larry Taylor, 238-155.

In another contested race, interim board member Kevin Follensbee fended off challenger Terry Straight for a two-year term on the three-member board. Follensbee won decisively, 283-117.

In other voting, six residents were elected to the seven-member Planning Board, which had been gutted by a wave of resignations late last year. Ruth Hook and Terry Martin were elected to three-year terms. Paul Goundrey and Martha Rose won two-year terms and Mark Adamczyk and Caleb Day will each serve one-year terms. None of the races were contested.

With the Selectboard chairperson serving as the seventh member, that Planning Board is now at full strength.

Orford’s public discourse has been contentious over the past year, with some residents split into hostile factions and the divisiveness spilling onto the town’s Listserv, which was shut down by Google for violating its content policy.

About 170 people gathered in the Rivendell Academy gymnasium Tuesday evening for a meeting that featured lengthy discussion and mostly polite disagreement.

“I think this meeting has been very positive,” resident John Bronson said during a break in the four-hour meeting. “Things are moving in a good direction.”

In a voice vote, residents approved a $1.4 million operating budget.

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Voters also took up more than a dozen capital reserve funds, which totaled $490,223.

Resident Tom Thomson offered a motion to amend the article to decrease each fund by 10%. The cuts would serve as a gesture to “show the people that we’re trying to cut back a little bit” on spending, he said.

“I think it’s a feel-good gimmick,” Bronson said of Thomson’s motion. “We all know that the real problem with taxes is the school budget, not the town budget,” he said. In a voice vote, residents rejected Thomson’s amendment and approved the article as written.

Voters also gave the Selectboard permission to explore the purchase of the Main Street Congregational Church. The church can no longer afford to maintain the building, Congregational Church Feasibility Study Committee member Eva Daniels told residents.

Under the church’s bylaws, the town has the right of first refusal on a potential sale. While the town will consider purchasing the church, voters rejected spending $10,000 for surveys and inspections.

Some residents were worried about the cost of maintaining an additional town building. “We don’t need more inventory; we need to fix what we have,” Hook, who was elected to the Planning Board, said.

Two petitioned articles addressed improving communication between the Selectboard, town committees and residents, an area that has been a frequent focus of complaints by residents.

A petition to require the Selectboard to include public comment in all public meeting agendas passed unanimously with no discussion.

The Orford Road Committee, a group that advises the town’s road agent, in a petitioned warrant article asked voters to better define its role and also wanted to require written communication between the committee and the road agent.

Resident Ann Green asked that the requirement be removed. “What is wrong with sitting down and discussing?” she said. The Road Committee needs to “tone it down,” she added.

Resident Peggy Villar responded that the Road Committee petitioned for this article “because they’re not getting communication and collaboration.”

The Road Committee’s work and recommendations have been “rebuffed by the Selectboard, and instead of appreciation, they’ve been disrespected and insulted, ignored and indeed told to shut up,” she said.

The measure passed with an amendment that increases the deadline for written communication from 14 to 30 days.

Voters approved spending $400,000 for the second phase of the Archertown Road project, which has become an issue of contention. The first phase was “$44,000 over budget,” Road Committee Chairman Charlie Smith said, and for the past few years there has been “really poor communication” between the Selectboard and the Road Committee.

“It’s been very frustrating,” he said.

After 45 minutes of discussion followed by paper ballot voting, Phase II of the Archertown Road project passed, with amended wording removing topcoat paving from the Phase I section of road. The amendment was based on the assumption that repairs would be required for the Phase I section of the road, so there was no sense paving over it.

Voters also supported a culvert project on Indian Pond Road after an amendment raised the allocation from $100,000 to $130,000.

At Wednesday’s Selectboard meeting, members were scheduled to appoint a permanent fire chief to replace Follensbee, who has served as interim chief since Straight’s resignation in January.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan@vnews.com or 603-727-3208.