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Kensington is second N.H. town to ask judge to intervene after selectmen quit

Union Leader Correspondent

September 13. 2018 11:13PM
All off Kensington's selectmen have resigned, creating an emergency situation for the town. (Jason Schreiber/Union Leader Correspondent)

KENSINGTON — The town’s request to have a judge appoint two new selectmen is only the second time that a New Hampshire municipality has turned to the court system to fill vacancies after a mass exodus from an elected board, a state official said Thursday.

A hearing is scheduled today for a Rockingham County Superior Court judge to consider an emergency petition asking that two residents be named to the three-member Board of Selectmen to replace two of the selectmen who resigned this week.

If the judge agrees, the new selectmen would then appoint a third selectman to help them manage the town of a little more than 2,000 residents until voters can elect a new board in March.

Kensington’s petition comes three years after a Grafton County Superior Court judge took up a similar request made by the tiny town of Orange after its entire Board of Selectmen quit.

The scramble to fill the positions began Tuesday after Norman DeBoisbriand, Robert Wadleigh and Linda Blood resigned following three months of contentious debate and accusations.

DeBoisbriand told the New Hampshire Union Leader that the board has faced constant attacks from some residents at meetings and on social media that became personal and targeted family members.

While all town boards have important jobs, the Board of Selectmen plays a critical role in town government.

Under state law, selectmen are charged with managing the prudential affairs of the town and are the ones who must sign off on all funds needed to pay town employees and other bills.

A town simply cannot function without a quorum of selectmen in place, according to Bruce Kneuer, supervisor of the Municipal Bureau for the state Department of Revenue Administration.

“Legally, the release of the tax funds that have come in needs a quorum of the board in order to authorize the treasurer to release the money,” Kneuer said.

Kensington Town Moderator Harold Bragg took quick action to avert a financial crisis by filing the court petition Wednesday because paychecks to town employees must be issued Friday. He’s hoping the judge will appoint the two selectmen in time for them to authorize Friday’s checks.

The emergency playing out in Kensington is one Dorothy Heinrichs has seen before.

She’s the chairman of the board of selectmen in Orange — a town of nearly 300 — and joined in the wake of the turmoil that resulted when the town’s three board members resigned in 2015.

According to Heinrichs, one member quit and was followed by the resignations of the remaining two members.

A Grafton County judge eventually appointed two former selectmen so the board could function again. The two selectmen then appointed Heinrichs, who had previously served on the board.

“Together, the three of us cleaned things up,” she said.

While Kensington and Orange are the most extreme cases of a local government in crisis, Kneuer noted two other instances where New Hampshire towns faced similar circumstances.

In March 2017, all three selectmen in Lisbon resigned on the day before town elections after becoming frustrated with personal criticism aimed at the board and town administrators by a group of residents. While it created some immediate concerns, Kneuer said the town was able to elect new selectmen the next day and didn’t have to ask a judge to intervene.

Kneuer said the town of Dorchester also faced a problem when there was only one member left on its board. He said the Secretary of State’s office decided that the one board member could appoint another member.

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