Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – An investigation into accusations of impropriety on the part of two councilors in handling of the bidding process for new windows for the Taylor Library is an open and shut case, after the council voted last night to drop the matter by a vote of 3-2-2.
A report presented Tuesday night to the council by Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse summarized his findings after interviewing eight people involved in the “windowgate” dispute.
“I have come to the conclusion that this matter was, in reality, a misunderstanding between the Taylor Trustees and Council member (David) Milz,” wrote Stenhouse in his conclusion.
The investigation was requested by Councilor Brad Benson, who asked Stenhouse if he would look into allegations leveled at the June 1 Council meeting, during which Councilors Janet Fairbanks and Kevin Coyle questioned statements in the official Taylor Library trustees minutes that seemed to indicate that Milz had been asked by Benson for a copy of the quotes for replacement windows with the intention of under bidding the work.
Benson maintains that he knew nothing about the request, and had no intention of bidding on the work. Milz said he was just trying to be helpful by offering to get Benson's professional opinion to help the trustees decide, after discussion over the disparity in bids – from $300 to $1,800. Milz stressed that he had not consulted with Benson in advance of the trustees meeting – his first since appointed Council liaison – and Milz said he did not even know what was on the agenda.
Stenhouse said he spent 10 hours interviewing both councilors and members of the library board, including secretary Carla Carney, who was responsible for recording the minutes. In his report, Stenhouse said Carney told him that she believed the minutes to be “fairly accurate,” but added that the minutes are prepared from her handwritten notes and “not meant to be a verbatim account.”
Fairbanks said she was surprised to learn that Stenhouse had conducted the investigation, saying that was not what she meant when she asked two weeks ago for an investigation.
“This is not what we asked for. It puts Gary in a bad situation seeing as how he answers directly to Brad,” Fairbanks said. “We didn't vote as a board, so I'm not sure how it got turned over to Gary. I had to read about it in the newspaper.”
Benson clarified that he had asked Stenhouse to sort out the dispute following the last council meeting in an effort to settle the matter quickly.
Coyle said he would have rather followed the town charter's directive, which would be for the council to investigate the matter as a board.
Councilor Neil Wetherbee, who led the discussion in Benson's place as vice Chair, said he did not see a conflict with asking Stenhouse to investigate and was satisfied that his report was fair and thorough.
From there, the discussion devolved into a dispute over Benson's management style, with Coyle and Fairbanks accusing Benson of micromanaging the process for investigation, as well as other agenda items since taking over the chairman's role.
Benson took issue with the accusation, and countered by asking why neither Coyle nor Fairbanks thought to ask him directly about the questionable minutes prior to formally requesting an investigation during a public meeting.
“Quite honestly, in a more civilized society, I would've gotten a phone call asking me 'What is this about, can you explain?' But in this society, it's about going to the press and releasing things,” said Benson.
At that point Benson said he wanted to end the discussion and move to a vote, to which Fairbanks said, “I guess we're being micromanaged again.”
A motion made by Fairbanks to look further into the matter failed to pass – Fairbanks and Coyle voted in favor, Wetherbee, Olbricht and Chirachiello voted against, and Benson and Milz abstained.