Lawsuit against Keene School District moves forward

The Keene Sentinel reports:

Amendments to Keene School District petition articles called illegal, suit filed 

A lawsuit filed against the Keene School District argues amendments made to seven warrant articles at the district’s deliberative session earlier this month were illegal and deprived residents of the opportunity to vote.

The petitioners — Conan Salada, Darryl W. Perry, David Crawford and Eric LaRoche — requested an injunction and an expedited hearing, so the issue can be sorted out before town and school district elections on March 11.

The document states the amendments to the petitioned articles were a “creative and surreptitious attempt” to eliminate the subject matter.

In January, Salada submitted seven petition articles to the school district. Three sought to replace the school district’s proposed budget with smaller budgets, two would have reduced the school board’s power to keep and use surplus money, one aimed to take away the board’s power to state support of warrant articles on the ballot and one aimed to remove the board’s authority to appoint members to fill empty seats.

All seven articles were amended overwhelmingly at the school district’s deliberative session Feb. 8. The budget articles were amended to be advisory only. The other four articles were changed by replacing language such as “remove” or “repeal” a board’s authority with clauses that would ratify the authority in question.

The six-hour session was tense at times, as those in support of the petition articles complained that the amendments changed the purpose of the articles, essentially making them useless.

Salada said each of the petitions had specific, “plain as day” purposes, and that the amendment changed the nature of the articles.

Perry objected to Moderator Joseph Hoppock’s and school district attorney John R. Wrigley’s opinions that the amendments were legal since they didn’t change the subject matter of the articles. He made a motion to overrule the moderator three times, but all attempts failed in voice votes.

Now, the four voters have filed a petition in Cheshire County Superior Court, repeating some of the arguments they made at the deliberative session. The amendments disenfranchise the voters of Keene, including the petitioners, according to the petition. Voters who choose not to attend the deliberative session still have the right to vote on the subject matter of each article at the polls.

The petition cites a 2011 case out of Rockingham County Superior Court that, according to the petition, found “any amendment that made the subject matter of the article a nullity was forbidden.”

Wrigley said this morning he hadn’t read the decision in that case, Bailey vs. Town of Exeter, but that he stands by his statements at deliberative session that the amendments didn’t alter the subject matter of the articles.

There will still be legitimate votes on questions in March, Wrigley said.

When asked whether there was an issue that no matter how residents vote in March, the articles will have no effect as written now, Wrigley said, “That was the will of the people at the first session.

“They could have done that with any other article that existed, but they didn’t,” he said.

The petition asks that the conduct of the school district, moderator and school board be found illegal and for an injunction to stop similar conduct in the future.

Keene Board of Education Chairman Christopher C. Coates said he didn’t have a comment on the petition, except to say that the deliberative session is a day where the community has a voice. It’s run by the district’s moderator, and board members are there to present information and answer questions.

A hearing is scheduled in Cheshire County Superior Court Feb. 28.

Kaitlin Mulhere can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or Follow her on Twitter @KMulhereKS.


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