Will You be able to Vote in Litchfield?February 20, 2015
by Len Lathrop
The answer is of course; hopefully, might even be a better answer. Still, as the HLN goes to press today, Wednesday the 18th of February, things are still up in the air. You ask: what is this story about?
First, let’s say it is only the school district’s ballot, and the issue is a result of a fuzzy issue in SB2 that reformed the town meeting system in many towns. This reform allowed the voters to have a secret ballot following a series of meetings with the public, several committees review and the memorable deliberative sessions. Again, this has nothing to do with the meetings, but what is called the default budget. School district clerk, elected last year as a write-in candidate in the March 2014 elections, Jason Guerrette, believes that the calculations of the default budget are floored. And he is the school district official who has to certify the ballot before it is printed.
The default budget is defined under RSA 40:13 as allowing the school district or town to continue to operate when the voters have rejected the budget that the elected officials prepared. The calculations are set by law, “shall equal the amount of the same appropriation for the preceding fiscal year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the previous year’s appropriation.” The default budget in this case is controlled by the Litchfield School Board, but prepared by staff in the superintendent’s office.
Guerrette believes that the calculations are wrong, and has emails back to Jan. 13, 2015, asking for an explanation of how the numbers are arrived at. He has provided all of his emails to the paper. The email on Jan. 13 appeared as follows:
Jason Guerrette <email@example.com> Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 7:57 AM, To: firstname.lastname@example.org, Frank Markiewicz <fMarkiewicz@litchfieldsd.org>, Brian Cochrane <email@example.com>,
Good morning, Normally there is a spreadsheet created showing how the default budget was derived. It has the items which either contributed to increases or decreases listed. May I please have a copy? Jason
Guerrette reports that none of his email has had a response; he supplied the paper with 20 emails.
Guerrette mentioned a call that he received from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte who told him to sign the ballot or resign. A letter was emailed by Attorney Gordon Graham from the office of Soule, Leslie, Kidder, Sayward & Loughman, who are counsel for the Litchfield School District, telling Guerrette that he had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to sign the official ballot form in accordance with his duties as school district clerk under RSA 40:13,VIII.
The emailed letter also confirmed LaBonte’s conversation with Guerrette and closes with “you as one individual do not have the right to delay the printing of the ballot and risk denying absentee voters the right to participate in the town and school election. Your failure to comply with this request will result in the District exercising all legal action available to the School District under the circumstances due to your dereliction of duty and refusal to complete the ministerial tasks that are your duty to complete as School District Clerk.”
As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Guerrette reports that Graham has extended the deadline until noon on Thursday, Feb. 19, and if Guerrette doesn’t sign, the school district will have the courts compel him to sign and ask that the moderator sign.
Guerrette reports that he suggested to Attorney Graham that there is a regular school board meeting where they could discuss the default budget issues. Graham, according to Guerrette, said that won’t happen. At press time, many questions are left up in the air. Why won’t the board answer the questions? What can the courts do? Why isn’t the secretary of state stepping in? Isn’t he the government official in charge of elections? Can explanation and communications solve this issue? The HLN will be there Wednesday night and will continue the report next Friday.