Piermont Voters to Decide if Husband, Wife Will Serve on Board

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2017

Town Meeting will take place on Tuesday in the Old Church Building. Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Voters will decide on the budget and other warrant articles at 7:30 p.m. at Piermont Village School.

Residents will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21 at the school to vote on the Piermont School District warrant.

Piermont — A Selectboard race that will be decided at Town Meeting this year offers residents the prospect of reducing some of the feuding that has become a regular feature of the board, but potentially creates a new problem: a married couple would be serving on and constituting a quorum of the three-member board.

George Mertz, the husband of Selectwoman Terri Mertz, is challenging Selectboard Chairman Randy Subjeck for a three-year seat. George Mertz lost to Subjeck in 2015.

Terri Mertz was elected to the board a year ago. She has since accused Subjeck and Selectboard member Colin Stubbings of harassing her, holding illegal meetings and violating the state’s Right-to-Know Law. At one of the meetings that Terri Mertz alleged was illegal because it wasn’t properly warned, Subjeck and Stubbings removed George Mertz as the webmaster of the town’s website.

Stubbings referred questions to Subjeck. Requests for comment from Subjeck, relayed through email and the town office, were not returned.

Under the state’s Right-to-Know Law, an official meeting occurs whenever a quorum of a public body gathers with the purpose of discussing or acting upon official business.

Such meetings are supposed to be warned in advance, documented through the taking of minutes and open to the public.

Terri Mertz said she envisioned no problems in having a married couple serve on a board and comply with state law.

“There’s no state law that says family members cannot sit on the same board,” she said, citing research she and her husband did through the New Hampshire Municipal Association. “As long as we do not discuss or make any decisions or any motions outside of a publicly held meeting,” the couple would not be violating the law.

“We will not break the statutes. We will work independently,” she said.

George Mertz cited the section of the law that says, “A chance, social, or other encounter not convened for the purpose of discussing or acting upon such matters shall not constitute a meeting if no decisions are made regarding such matters.”

George Mertz said he and his wife would adhere to the law and would not discuss town business at home.

“There’s no need to. Anything we can do, we can talk about in public,” George Mertz said.

“Even if we conspired to make a decision on town matters, we still have to go and do everything in front of the public, and we would have to explain those reasons to the public,” he said. “We don’t have any personal agendas about supporting any special interest in town or trying to get back at anyone for anything. We don’t have any vindictive purposes.”

New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said in an email that, while there is no statute that prohibits spouses from sitting on a selectboard, “the appearance of a husband and wife serving on the same board should be considered by them, and because they would represent a quorum of the board of selectmen, any conversations they would have at home about town affairs would be subject to the Right-to-Know Law.”

David Saad, president of the advocacy group Right to Know NH, said that, while there are not restrictions on spouses serving on the same board, “I think it opens up a very significant quagmire that the townspeople would want to avoid.”

“Essentially, every time the husband and wife is together, there is potential for them to violate the Right-to-Know Law,” Saad said.

In July, Terri Mertz sued the town, Subjeck and Stubbings over what she alleged to be violations of the Right-to-Know Law, including failure to produce meeting minutes upon request and holding an illegal nonpublic session. She is asking that the court order the Selectboard to attend training sessions on the Right-to-Know Law and that her legal fees be reimbursed.

Laura Spector-Morgan, who is representing the town through the Mitchell Municipal Group, said she could not comment on ongoing litigation, but alluded to the response she filed in court on the town’s behalf.

“Essentially, what we said was some of what (Terri Mertz) said was true. Those were honest errors that were immediately corrected,” Spector-Morgan said. “Some of what she claims, we do deny.”

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 21 in Grafton County Superior Court.

George Mertz said part of his motivation for running for office is because the public’s right to know “is being infringed upon.” During his 24 years in the Navy, Mertz said, he managed teams made up of hundreds of people and handled a multimillion-dollar budget. “I know what it takes to run a small corporation, which is what a town is.” he said.

George Mertz said Subjeck has repeatedly shown that he is “completely incompetent in managing the affairs of the town.”

According to the town report, the town has seen an increase in legal costs due to tax abatement cases and the lawsuit, which is estimated to have cost the town more than $60,000.

Brian Rose — whose name also will appear on the ballot for the three-year seat — withdrew his name at a candidates night held last Saturday, said resident Helena Saarion, who was at the function.

The proposed operating budget for the town is $1,230,144, with $940,144 to be raised by taxes, an increase of about $29,000. The total does not include other articles that appear on the warrant, such as a request to purchase a new truck, maintenance and paving projects on Indian Pond Road, and adding money to various reserve and trust funds.

The total tax rate for 2016 (municipal, county and state and town education taxes) was $23.95 per $1,000 of valuation.

The town warrant was approved by Stubbings and Subjeck on Feb. 14 at a meeting Terri Mertz said she could not attend.

“I was not given a copy of it to approve either,” she said. “I have no input on these warrant articles at all.”

Also appearing on the warrant is a non-binding petitioned article asking for a “no confidence” vote in the Selectboard, for Mertz and Subjeck to resign, and for a special election to replace them.

The proposed school budget is $2,180,712, an increase of about $191,000 over last year’s approved budget. The amount to be raised by the local education tax is proposed to increase by about $212,000 to a total of about $1.5 million, which would factor in a projected $2.21 increase in the school tax rate to $17.77.

The proposed budget calls for a $79,000 rise in regular education spending and $35,000 in special education cost.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.