The Whitefield Select Board abruptly ended its Tuesday, Dec. 6 meeting with items still on the agenda after residents voiced their frustration at the board’s rejection of a citizens’ petition.
The petition, signed by 334 registered voters, sought to place a public easement on Wear Pond Road and to appropriate the amount of damages to the landowner as just compensation.
The board narrowly rejected the petition in a 3-2 vote with board Chair Lester Sheaffer and members Seth Bolduc and Charlene Donahue voting against putting it on the warrant for the annual town meeting in March.
Shortly after the board’s vote, multiple residents began shouting they wanted to comment on the matter. Sheaffer banged his gavel in an attempt to gain control of the meeting. The board adjourned shortly after despite unfinished business on the agenda.
Sheaffer cited the U.S. Constitution as his reasoning for voting against the citizen’s petition.
“We live in a constitutional republic where the individual rights are protected from the majority,” Sheaffer said. “Once it gets in a town meeting, basically it’s whoever has the most people on their side is going to decide what happens to somebody else’s property. To me, that is not the way this country has been set up.”
Donahue and Bolduc expressed concerns over the town taking private property.
“The town hasn’t had a need for this road since the 1800s. That is why it is discontinued,” Bolduc said. “This petition is asking the town to seize private property and I can’t seize private property.”
“If we take private property here, where else do we take private property?” Donahue said. Donahue also questioned whether the town wanted to spend funds on a likely lawsuit.
Board members Keith Sanborn and William “Bill” McKeen voted in support of sending the petition to the town for a vote, pointing to residents’ involvement in the matter as their reasoning.
“Three hundred (and) thirty-four registered voters in town have signed this petition, as well as 60 something unregistered voters,” Sanborn said. “This many citizens’ concern over this matter is telling me that this is something that should be decided by a vote at the next town meeting.”
Sanborn said he is neither for nor against the petition, only that it should be up to the town to decide. McKeen echoed Sanborn’s opinion.
“Regardless of how I feel about the situation, I do feel that the select board should make the decision to put it out for the town meeting to decide and get everyone involved at that point,” McKeen said.
As the board prepared to take a vote on the petition, residents attending the meeting interjected, requesting permission to speak on the matter. Sheaffer denied the request, saying the board had received all the information they needed and was not seeking feedback from the public.
“We have a motion on the floor, we are going to deal with it; all the public comments were taken in the past,” Sheaffer said.
According to town officials, Weary Pond Road was discontinued by Lincoln County in the late 1800s but residents were allowed access to the road with permission from property owners.
On Sept. 2, 2021, The Lincoln County News reported a dispute over Weary Pond Road started up again when residents expressed frustration during a select board meeting over a gate placed at the north end of the road by the property owner at the time, Jacob Radonis.
Keith Radonis is now the current owner of the property. He declined to comment and quickly left the meeting after the board’s vote on the petition.
According to the Sept. 2 article, Whitefield Planning Board members Jennifer Grady and Kathy Dauphin said the gate prevented them from accessing their property via the road. Grady was behind the citizens petition the board rejected on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
“I think it is unfair they rejected it without hearing from the public,” Grady said during a phone interview on Wednesday, Dec. 7. “I know they had select board meetings but they never held a public hearing.”
Grady also disagrees with the board that Weary Pond Road is private property.
“Historically people have been using that road for generations,” Grady said.
Grady said she plans on appealing the board’s decision, but was unsure what the next steps were to file an official appeal.
Whitefield resident Greg Hodgkins attended the meeting and disagreed with the board’s decision.
“They shut it down. They don’t even want to discuss it with us,” Hodgkins said.
Hodgkins said his grandfather, Roy Potter, used to the own the property currently owned by the Radonis and the road was used for recreational purposes.
“I use to go camping out there and fishing out there and I should be able to use both sides of that road,” Hodgkins said.
The next select board meeting is set for Tuesday, Dec. 13 at the Whitefield fire station.