Friday, June 28, 2024

Haverhill's Woes Continue as Turnover Plagues Town While Woodsville Interests Celebrate Codling's Departure

By: Rich Bergeron      

     The recent resignation and quick departure of Brigitte Codling from the new Town Administrator position in Haverhill put all the power of the town into the hands of an unprepared and now overwhelmed Haverhill Select Board. On top of learning how to operate in their new roles under the recently voted-in Town Administrator form of government, the current sitting board members have to find a new Town Administrator. At the time of this report there are only 6 applicants for the position they are considering. 

     Turnover has also ripped through town like a stray tornado. Jennifer Boucher, the assistant town manager to Codling left her post first. Phil Blanchard, the former select board chair, resigned quickly after the change of government vote. Most recently, three police officers resigned and left the service of the town. 

     Codling's demise reminds me of the old adage: "The people you really want in power are the ones who will run kicking and screaming from it." Of course, last night's presidential debate proved that point as well. 

      Only those backing Woodsville's fight for generational funding could possibly be celebrating the current state of affairs in the town of Haverhill and seeing it as any kind of victory for the greater community. Dick Guy's persistent criticism of Codling finally reached it's ultimate fruition. That reminds me of a former president and his famous declaration that the war was over when in all reality, it really wasn't even close to ending. 

      The fact is, hatred and anger have no genuine or benevolent purpose. Giving in to these emotions always leads to more harm than good being put out into the world. Though Woodsville's "Good Old Boy Network" might be doing backflips at the prospect of a town run by someone other than Codling, they may soon realize they've shot their own campaign for restoring their old funding in the foot. 

     The most frustrating part of this case and this story is it may take years to come to a natural resolution. The wheels of justice turn so painfully slow in the state of New Hampshire and even across the country in most jurisdictions. It's designed that way, so we need our barristers and esquires of all stripes to navigate the convoluted system. This generates lots of money that goes back into local economies. 

     Still, if the time and energy is spent to carry the legal case against DTC attorneys through the summary judgment phase, it will be well worth the effort. If the town can summarily emerge victorious in the litigation, no other legal firm's employees will be able to do what DTC attorneys did to any other town or city in the state without the potential for serious civil court consequences. The Haverhill vs. DTC case will become significant historic precedent law.

     It is the type of case that only forces the opposition to continue to invent new lies to support the old ones. None of their explanations make sense when matched up with the evidence on file with the court that Haverhill provided. Defending their clients aimlessly and hoping only to outspend their adversaries is the only Hail Mary hope for the attorneys representing DTC now. They can only win by dragging Haverhill into the deep, troubled waters of the local legal system and drowning the town with the weight, influence, wealth and power of the DTC firm itself. 

      Only a severely corrupted and deeply infected legal system could side with a firm like DTC in the ongoing case. This case illustrates every principle of why conflicts of interests should not be allowed in official government business relationships of any kind, not just attorney/client agreements. If the judge on this case has any sympathy for DTC's attorneys and their asinine behavior here, it simply proves one of Donald Trump's most famous refrains: "It's all rigged." 

     Amidst the turnover and turmoil, there are some good, hard-working people who make up the sitting Haverhill Select Board trying to unravel the mess. Whoever replaces Codling at the helm of the town will face plenty of uphill battles and have to thwart constant attempts by Woodsville interests to complete their plans for regulatory capture over the town. 

      Meanwhile, the wheels of justice grind slowly on with no smart conclusions in site that will resolve the animosity between the two municipalities at this point. Even Woodsville's appeal with the state Supreme Court is still without a final ruling. It seems Woodsville's Good Old Boys may be doing a premature touchdown dance when the replay will ultimately show they stepped out of bounds at the other end of the field. 

STAY TUNED, as the next few weeks will feature a flurry of legal documents from both sides to review and report on. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

"Show me the Money!" From Fiscal Responsibility to Financial Uncertainty, Haverhill Changes Form of Government in Town Ballot Vote


     Rather than the written works of Lewis Carroll, we look to much more modern theater at the movie Jerry Maguire for our next reference to the fine arts. 

     Fictional football Star "Rod Tidwell," through real-life actor Cuba Gooding Jr., made the phrase "Show me the Money" famous. The Tidwell character in the movie made Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire character repeatedly shout it back to him in a very iconic scene: 

(480) "Show Me The Money" | Jerry Maguire - YouTube   

      Jerry Maguire was a sports agent dealing with athletes who could often be demanding, egotistical and in some cases disconnected from reality. It is not unlike the position the town of Haverhill and the NH Department of Revenue Administration ended up in while fielding Woodsville's incessant attempts to keep Haverhill funds flowing to the district for their fire and highway departments. There are tons of parallel entitlement issues in both circumstances. Like many pro sports athletes, those in charge of the funds under Woodsville's direction did not keep good tabs on where all of that money was going. That leaves Haverhill taxpayers yelling "Show me the money!" 

      A common refrain from the Woodsville side is the old standard: "It's our money, what do you care how we spend it?"

      The Haverhill, NH saga we've been reporting on here took a new turn recently in the wake of a vote by the town to change from a Town Manager to a Town Administrator form of government. Changes will be implemented by the time this article goes live. They could be costly, as the Woodsville vs. Haverhill funding feud continues to escalate. 

      Brigitte Codling took a risky position in standing up for fiscal responsibility across the entire town. Her reform efforts shook up a well-entrenched "good old boy" network and led to essential legislation efforts to hash out the Woodsville funding issue once and for all. She also faced a backlash of hatred and vitriol for pinching too many pennies in places where they'd never been pinched before. That put a huge target on Codling's back for interfering with "the way it always was" in Woodsville. 

     This year's town election featured a vote to change Haverhill to a Town Administrator form of government. The vote passed, which means Codling's existing contract had to be bought out. The administrator position is appointed by the Select Board in this new form of government. So, if the board recognizes Codling's efforts and considers her a good fit for the role, they can easily name her Town Administrator, at least temporarily. That's exactly what they've done, in fact. She's now under contract for one more year with the town as the incoming Town Administrator. 

A similar changeover happened in Bristol once, where the town manager's stay was a bit more short lived:

Manager in Bristol resigns as town moves prepares to move away from town manager system | Local News | 

     An effort to oust Codling that named her outright in the warrant article failed to pass in last year's town vote. The decision by voters to indirectly attempt to depose her in this backhanded manner seems misguided, but it's also typical of the pied piper nature of politics. The margin of victory was a few dozen votes.  

     Some towns modify the administrator role to keep the board members from being overworked and underqualified to handle vital town issues normally left to a Town Manager. This article about a Vermont town dealing with the same kind of issue focused on potential liability associated with a Town Administrator form of government as opposed to the Town Manager setup:

Town Administrator or Town Manager: A Question Not So Black and White – The Hinesburg Record

      The change will usher in an all-powerful select board in Haverhill. The role and authority of each board member will greatly expand and adapt due to the change. The Town Administrator will be their appointee. So many more differences in these two town leadership schemes are outlined in this important Q and A report: 

KM_C454e-20170203113937 (  

       It seems that the legal conundrum created by the recent controversy with the prior board didn't concern enough voters for them to stick by the Town Manager form of government. Animosity appears to be boiling under every potentially final negotiation of the Woodsville funding debacle, and it's easier to blame one person than it is to indict an undercurrent of corruption. Codling essentially became what they refer to in politics as "too polarizing." 

      Yet, without accurate post-vote polling or knowing the thoughts in the heads of voters deciding on the issue, we really can't know if this was truly an effort targeting Codling herself. Perhaps it was just a matter of enough people just thinking that type of government would make much more sense. The reality is, the new norm depends more than ever on who makes up the board of selectmen and why they are all truly there. The latest Woodsville controversy over the last few years, especially the backroom legal wrangling we've reported on here, all occurred because the town's board felt it was finally stacked enough to make a power move. 

      Is this Town Administrator change creating the kind of scenario and environment that makes the most sense for Haverhill? Time will tell, but the taxpayers of Haverhill will soon be hearing the town tell them all "Show me the money!"

      It will likely be a six-figure buyout of the town manager position. The Town Administrator position carries approximately the same wage as Codling's former position offered. In another "be careful what you wish for" scenario, if the voters intended the change of government to get Codling out, the problem with that logic is the board is no longer stacked in favor of Woodsville's interests first. It's hard not to notice how much the board relies on her guidance and advice at public meetings. It's simply the smartest move to make under the circumstances to keep her at the helm. 

       Unfortunately, Woodsville may ultimately get another chance to "stack" the political deck in town. Board Chairman Phil Blanchard recently resigned from his position. He did so primarily due to the extended requirements of the board member role under the new form of government. His replacement will be appointed by the rest of the current board. Then, it's all up to the voters down the line. It's a lot of power for a selectman to have and even more power for town voters to have in the way of being able to shape the future of their town leadership.  

      There's no clear evidence that the vote to change the system of government in town was a referendum against Codling in particular or a preference of the type of government in question. However, it makes sense after trying so many other ways to get it done, that this was the last-ditch attempt of Codling's detractors to convince voters to remove her from her role one way or another. So, if it was indeed an anti-Codling agenda that carried the vote, it might turn out to be a rocket-propelled grenade fired at the target that instead landed at the feet of the voters and town taxpayers who ultimately approved the costly and potentially disastrous change. 


     Slick, underhanded moves like this change of government vote might seem like a victory in the short term to Codling's detractors who appear connected to the effort, but changing to a Town Administrator just may be the most fiscally irresponsible move the town could make in the long run. 

     It seems Woodsville and Haverhill are still very much at odds over the negotiation involved within NH Senate Bill 448. A recent work session didn't seem to clear matters up at all. Woodsville's district administrator Kevin Shelton admitted at the hearing that he never saw some of the provisions offered in a proposed deal to merge the Haverhill and Woodsville Fire Departments to create a unified town department in Haverhill. The real stalling point continued to be the highway department funding. There is apparently not much of a possibility that Woodsville could simply have their Haverhill highway department taxes waived or refunded through legislation. Such a pact would leave Woodsville to use the savings toward keeping their own highway department. The committee chair continuously rejected such an option. 

     Merging both Woodsville's Fire and Highway departments with Haverhill's would seem like the best way to solve the problem. Rivalry, pride and in some cases ignorance seems to be preventing much progress on this front so far. 

       It makes the most sense with the fire departments, who already work together on large fires and emergencies. Yes, it's technically the "Woodsville Fire District" and having a fire department there is historically significant, but the merge doesn't mean they lose their station or even their staff. 

      Folding in the highway department could also work under the right circumstances. If Woodsville wanted to keep their highway department and manage it all themselves, the best their taxpayers should get in return for that is a tax break from Haverhill for maintaining the roads in the commercial center of the community so Haverhill doesn't have to. It may actually be worth a 50 percent reduction in the taxes Woodsville residents pay for Haverhill's highway department. If a tax forgiveness plan is an option, it would be the board and Woodsville's leadership working it out now under a Town Administrator government. 

      It is clear from an outsider's perspective that Woodsville's ultimate goal (if they could afford to do it) would be to become their own town. They want their own departments, and they want the old funding formula to be the new norm again. At this point, this single issue has created more rivalry than progress for both municipalities engaged in the struggle. The reality is Woodsville is a district of Haverhill. I'm sure the residents of Haverhill use Woodsville's roads and the residents of Woodsville use greater Haverhill's roads. The fire departments obviously work together regularly already. I'm sure there is a certain pride in a longstanding tradition of the district retaining their own exclusive departments. However, there is also a longstanding tradition of poor performance on audits across the district. 

       Woodsville is already under an intense audit-driven spotlight with the Department of Revenue and Administration in NH. The fire and highway departments would be two less entities they would have to keep and show accurate books for. 

      A certain "that's the way it's always been" crowd in town on both sides of the Woodsville/Haverhill border seems to be constantly squirming for a stronger foothold in the political landscape. They keep coming up empty recently, only fueling their fire to achieve some final revenge and redemption. They keep forgetting that the world around them has to adapt to the changing times. Time moves on, and antiquated practices have to be eliminated or edited to reflect the present-day reality. 

     Meanwhile, the town is still pursuing a declaratory action against the attorneys involved in an attempted small-town coup in Haverhill.  A summary judgement package recently hit the docket with Haverhill insisting this is an open and shut case of political corruption and unethical legal maneuvering. The bulk of the evidence on twin motions for summary judgment (one for Haverhill's case and the other for DTC's counterclaims) shows that the DTC attorneys' claims involving their alleged ratified retention by the town are completely bogus. These documents display a number of circumstances and events stacked together that prove beyond any shadow of an unbiased doubt that DTC attorneys hijacked an emergency situation to weasel their way into supposed employ of the town. Once implanted, they accomplished absolutely nothing in the town's best interests. Instead, they claimed the work of another firm and a local politician as their own. 

       The kicker is, these weasel attorneys were never legitimately employed by anyone in this scenario due to serious conflict of interest concerns over-riding the entire period of their alleged legitimate retention. Each point of fact and stage of the process DTC failed to follow is outlined in pristine detail through these motions and their supporting documentation. Each crucial point of fact and law in favor of the town taken on its own would completely destroy DTC's arguments and potential defenses. Together, this evidence and background will immediately sink DTC's battleship with any sane judge who reviews it all properly. 

     To add insult to injury, DTC isn't even paying the ridiculous costs of defending this case, all thanks to the firm's big insurance policy. In my trickle-down wreckonomics analysis in an earlier post on this site, I outlined how this kind of situation shows how everybody ends up footing the bill for one group's complete incompetence. Who do you think really ends up paying the costs that big insurance company absorbs for DTC's complete lack of due diligence, absence of candor, and outright malpractice? The other smaller consumers who use the same insurance provider all likely take on a piece of that debt when the firm's own yearly premium costs are drowned out by the drastic litigation expenses here. DTC's own premiums might "trickle" up next year, but not nearly enough to pay for the complete waste of time involved in defending this case that these documents prove is a slam dunk for the Town of Haverhill.

Read the crucial filings for yourself:     

Summary Judgment Motion for DTC's Counterclaims Against Haverhill

Statement of Facts for Summary Judgment Motion (Counterclaims of DTC)

Summary Judgment Motion For Haverhill's Declaratory Judgment Case

Statement of Facts for Declaratory Judgment Summary Judgment Motion

     This case certainly screams "show me the money." And it also illustrates that you don't have to represent yourself to have "a fool for a client." 

Friday, January 26, 2024

Secret Meetings and Shady Motives: How a Small Town Coup Unraveled in Haverhill, NH


By: Rich Bergeron
The original Disney animation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland always captivated me as a child. I later learned in formal English classes that Carroll had a natural fascination with the principles of logic. The fantastical, whimsical tea party Alice stumbles into in the scene depicted above is actually what they call an "un-birthday" party. 

      The "un-birthday" concept is a perfect parallel to the "non-meetings" the Haverhill Board of Selectmen engaged in with attorneys from Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella (DTC) last year. Framing these secretive, undocumented sessions as crucial to solving the supposed ongoing tax rate setting crisis, Woodsville sympathizers actually used the "non-meeting" designation to quietly encourage their new attorneys to facilitate the removal of Haverhill Town Manager Brigitte Codling. It was classic subterfuge and it shows through in multiple emails sent back and forth between DTC Attorneys Christopher Hawkins, Eric Maher and Christopher Boldt. 

     Hawkins specifically also maintained direct contact with his former colleague Attorney Lynette Macomber throughout his allegedly legitimate representation of Haverhill. Macomber is still representing Woodsville. She appeared recently at a hearing in Concord to lobby against a bill meant to impose strict audit conditions on the district (SB 448). She appeared the week before as the district's attorney in an appeal that is still pending. Woodsville clearly has no problem paying her to cover all the legal bases. Hawkins even asked her at one point to send her appeal paperwork over so he could review it. 

     The story of Alice in Wonderland turned logic upside down in many ways, twisted it in others, and made a fun and entertaining story of how things would be if our world was not built on logic at all. This article takes our readers to another world of topsy turvy logic in real life. It's a place where trained lawyers do things backwards on purpose. Procedures and processes are all out of whack. You have wandered into a Woodsville tea party, folks, so get ready to move down, even though there's unlimited empty chairs waiting to be filled in the dining room. 


      A formal waiver in a situation of conflict for an attorney is designed so that an attorney and a client can move forward with official documentation that certifies any potential conflict of interest issue is behind them. A conflict of interest exists if there is a significant risk that a lawyer's action on behalf of one client will materially limit the lawyer's effectiveness in representing another client in a different case. DTC Attorney Christopher Hawkins had a textbook conflict example in front of him. He had all the formal training to recognize it and refuse to represent the board. 

     Instead, Hawkins pressed on. He even took it a step further and emailed his colleague Attorney Eric Maher on January 11, 2023: "With your permission, I'd like to put this matter down as my origination. I believe this matter came to us as a result of my prior representation of Woodsville. I say that recognizing that you will do a lot of the work as the municipal law expert. I'm happy to discuss this with you." Law firm origination credit plans are designed to reward the attorney who brought in the new client. Typically, the originating lawyer will receive a percentage or set dollar amount per client they bring in. 

      Hawkins also emailed Maher on the same day to tell him it might be a good idea to get the town's permission to speak with his former Adversary in the Woodsville case at Drummond Woodsum. "We may need to have a come-to-Jesus with Demetrio Aspiras," wrote Hawkins. "We need the Board's authorization to discuss these issues with him." The issues he was referring to were related to Aspiras' legal conclusion that the Woodsville Fire Department was not legally formed. That was just one basis the DRA used to disallow the contested warrant articles. 

     Attorney Hawkins was so darn eager to get to work for the conflicted board members that he was willing to turn the normal and logical waiver-before-retention process on its head. Rather than get the waiver handled before any formal services were rendered, Hawkins and his colleagues generated $3,896 in fees prior to securing all the right signatures on the above-linked waiver agreement. Here's where the logic makes no sense if these are expert attorneys making these maneuvers. How could you overlook the most basic tenet of avoiding conflict and forget to submit the signed waiver before any real work began? Hawkins also repeatedly mentioned work he performed for the board/town at no charge, which is typically something attorneys only do for close friends or charitable enterprises. 

      To make matters worse, there was never a recorded quorum vote by the board of selectmen to approve the conflict waiver itself. That means Robbins was not duly authorized by any vested town authority to sign that document on behalf of the town, other than his own perceived authority as vice chairman of the Haverhill Select Board. 
      The rules are clear, and there needs to be a written conflict waiver in place prior to any representation being allowed in any conflict scenario. If there is no valid and enforceable waiver, there can be no representation legally in such a conflict scenario. Even though it appears the Haverhill Select Board members actually sought out Hawkins because they wanted his conflicted advice, they couldn't get the most basic paperwork submitted on time because they had to get then Board Chairman Fred Garofalo out of the way. Garofalo was providing a little too much resistance to the plan. Prior to his resignation from the board he had repeatedly refused to sign any hiring paperwork for DTC. Garofalo has since passed away.

      Just a few months prior to his death, Garofalo spoke at the May 22, 2023 Haverhill Board of Selectman meeting as a member of the audience this time. He took direct issue with the "non-meetings" held with DTC attorneys under the guise of getting the town's tax rate set. He specifically mentioned the fact that Selectman Steve Robbins had all the hiring paperwork for DTC sent to his personal home address instead of any official town address. He called the "non-meetings" held with DTC and without Codling present illegal. Finally, he berated the one board member left who participated in those "secret" meetings: Kevin Knapp. 

      Before sitting down, the former board chair had one last poignant thought to share with Selectman Knapp: 

       "The proper and expedient thing to do would be to resign," Garofalo told Knapp to the clapping of a few audience members in support of the idea. Check out the full meeting video with the following link and pass code (Garofalo's remarks begin at 37:10 mark):

Pass Code: ZMR8PHg3

      Garofalo is a man who was caught in the crossfire of a turf war he didn't want to be involved in. Watching him during prior meetings that he chaired would give any objective person the impression that Fred really knew all the procedure, all the policies, and all the responsibilities that governed his role. He also seemed to enjoy his board work immensely, as if it was borne out of pure love for his community. He was often left out on a limb by the Woodsville implants on the board who put this series of Nixon-esque dirty tricks in motion. Before they could find a way to terminate Town Manager Codling's contract, the conflicted board members eventually realized they had to oust Fred first. 

       It's only natural that such a ruthless bunch of attorneys and board members was so willing to put a dedicated old politician out to pasture to further their unethical crusade. They simply did not care who or what got in their way. This was their big chance to leverage the stacked deck they had inside the board. Forcing Fred's resignation was a point of no return of sorts as much as it was an ethical and moral line the co-conspirators never should have crossed. 

     At some point along the way in all this, possibly around the time Woodsville's own Steve Robbins took over leadership of the board in Fred's absence, all the rule books went flying out the window. Robbins--an executive level member of the Woodsville Fire Department at the same time he was a Haverhill selectman--would have had a natural bias toward supporting the Haverhill to Woodsville funding. He directly benefited from that funding as an employee of the Woodsville Fire Department. 

      Robbins recently posted and removed a comment from Facebook in which he called this site a joke. I contacted him through Facebook Messenger, and Robbins told me, "I will do just fine in the court if I get the opportunity." That's a big "if" at this point. Robbins later insisted he did not lie to the public during the course of his coordination with DTC. 

     "What I have is a lifelong history of GIVING to my community, and a lifelong record of integrity," Robbins wrote. "You have nothing. I have not lied, keep believing yourself."

      If Robbins speaks the truth and this case goes to trial, then we are in for a Wild West style shootout full of loaded words on the witness stand between the Woodsville Sympathizers and the DTC attorneys. It's going to come down to a he said/she said attorney/client free-for-all if this goes to a full-fledged trial with testimony. Robbins and his colleagues are on the public record attesting they never directed DTC attorneys to work around Codling. DTC attorneys are now on the record officially claiming that's exactly what the board told them to do. 

      Did DTC attorneys keep the Town Manager in the dark at the direction of the board? Or did DTC attorneys simply come up with that strategy on their own? Steve Robbins has his signature on all the crucial paperwork. The answers to those ominous questions will come out in a very ugly, publicly embarrassing manner if Steve Robbins ever has to take the stand. Robbins had a great deal of personal interaction with Attorney Christopher Hawkins throughout this saga. 

      Robbins and the rest of the board didn't even take DTC's advice to seek independent counsel to review the waiver agreement Robbins signed so late in the game, days after the resolution of the rate setting issue they were supposedly hired to deal with. Robbins obviously trusted Hawkins implicitly and wasn't going to check his work with anyone. 

     The waiver issue is just the tip of the iceberg here. It is aside from the fact that Robbins communicated through texts with Hawkins in February of 2023, referencing signing the final retention agreement. If Robbins mailed the final signed agreement back to the firm on February 9th, 2023, it would be nearly a month after the January 15th date of the conflict waiver getting signed by Robbins. 

     As it is, the original waiver provided by DTC was packaged with the formal engagement letter that Steve Robbins signed and dated January 31st, 2023, which means the majority of what DTC later billed the town for was already completed before any governing signed agreement was in place. There is no retroactive language in the agreement itself explaining it covered work done prior to the agreement being signed and delivered. The DTC logic bus is driving in reverse again on this one. You don't have to go to law school to figure out that a representation/retention agreement ought to be secured before any actual formal representation begins. It was truly a "first the sentence, then the verdict" Queen of Hearts maneuver by the DTC attorneys. 
     This makes both the waiver and the retention agreement hopelessly late. There are deadlines and particular processes in the legal profession that are dependent on timing for a reason. Lawyers live and die on timing in certain cases. Yet, it looks like these DTC attorneys didn't really care about chronological order at all, as if time itself was moving backward in their world. 

      The iceberg is even bigger than you think when it comes to how hopelessly defunct this legal representation arrangement really was. The board even publicly stated that there was "no contract" at their January 17, 2023 Select Board Meeting: (See page 10) 

     "The Board noted there is no contract. Vice Chair Robbins said there might be more correspondence. He believes the Select Board and Administration need to discuss law firms in general." 

      Yet again, Robbins is taking point at this meeting on the status of the attorneys and how they will be used. He just ignores the guidelines he agreed to follow by even accepting his service as a town board member. He has at this point also already gone against his own suggestion to discuss law firms with Town Administration by even attempting to work with DTC attorneys without Codling's consent or inclusion. He provided the most deficient leadership possible to the board in a time of need by maintaining that working relationship with DTC's most conflicted attorney under such false pretenses for so long. And all the while he is willing to admit there is no contract. 

     Usually it's filing deadlines that most attorneys and clients have to be wary of. This time it was a looming political deadline that required getting all the ducks in a row in time for town elections. Even if it was as late as late could be, like the white rabbit himself, Hawkins and Robbins had to get all the retention paperwork squared away and neatly arranged in case elections changed the makeup of the board. 

       Robbins indeed wound up losing his seat. Another text he sent Attorney Hawkins summarizes how he felt about that: 

      The billing statements submitted by DTC are incriminating themselves, especially if you look at some of the firm's final tasks. Hawkins even included 10 hours of travel and attendance time for the Haverhill Town Meeting on March 18, 2023. It is the only item on the bill where the words (no charge) appear next to the line item. It seems like a lot of commitment for an attorney purporting to have no conflict. 

      A prior trip to Haverhill appeared on the town's bill from DTC directly across from two $1,600 charges, each for eight hour increments of preparation, travel, meetings and conferences. Hawkins and Maher made the trip on January 27, 2023 to speak "with Haverhill Board of Selectmen to discuss DRA and other issues." Hawkins also requests expenses of 66 cents per mile for a trip to Haverhill to see Steve Robbins in particular on January 31, 2023. These were trips taken long after the tax rate issue was done and dusted. 

      One of the most interesting line items in the whole document appears under the date of February 2, 2023. It is the $220 that Hawkins billed for: "Telephone calls with two members of Board of Selectmen regarding threatened lawsuits; email communication with Board member regarding immunity and civil claims against public officials; preliminary review of Primex insurance policy." 

     The next day Hawkins bills another $200 for an hour of conversations with one board member about "immunity and civil liability" and another board member "regarding timeline of events and public statement." It seems that throughout this stage of the saga, DTC attorneys were spending more time on speech writing and helping town officials avoid personal lawsuits than they were on providing sound legal advice to the town itself.

     The conflict the board thought they wanted eventually came back to bite them in the end. It spread like a fever that was fatal to future political ambitions. Board Members Katie Williams and Michael Graham didn't last much longer than Robbins. Kevin Knapp became the lone holdout from the group, and even he recently faced intense pressure to step down from Board Chairman Phil Blanchard. 

      Despite Blanchard's lecture advising Knapp to "get done" happening in a non-public session, the minutes were not sealed. That left the video of the session open for public viewing. It is certainly must see TV for anyone following this story. 

Pass Code: %r7eeR3E

      Knapp did not take his colleague's advice. He also did not show up at the next board meeting that Former Board Member Matt Bjelobrk appeared at to call Knapp's conduct into question. It was a clear case of shirking his duties at the same time he was trying to show his commitment to stay in office by not resigning. 

     So, like Nixon hints at above, the anti-Codling crusaders in this legal/political cabal were so overwhelmed by hatred and animosity that they destroyed themselves by trying to break all the rules to throw her out of office. They all sacrificed their integrity to obtain some short-lived victory in what would ultimately amount to a losing battle. Their main adversary was always one step ahead of them. 

     Even if their bills were somehow deemed justified, DTC attorneys made a complete mess of things instead of doing the board or the town any real service in the long run. Their own horrible guidance created a great deal of extra work for these attorneys that they brazenly expected the town to pay for. They bungled every step of the process they were supposed to be masters of, and they still wanted a big, fat paycheck for their piss poor performance. The vaulting arrogance and ignorance of these slithering solicitors is just astounding.   


     One of the most crucial dialogues on the Woodsville vs. Haverhill funding dispute occurred at the September 26, 2022 Select Board Meeting. (pass code: 2Aj=yF58) The best part of the footage begins around 1 hour and 10 minutes into the recording. 

      Woodsville's champions on the board put up quite a fight at this meeting for the effort to ask the DRA to reverse their position on warrant articles funding the district being disallowed. Board Member Michael Graham was the most outspoken selectman involved in the debate. At times he seemed to cross the line between politician and lobbyist. 

      Haverhill Resident Lorraine Prescott began stirring up the commentary by asking the board outright: what benefit does Haverhill enjoy by providing Woodsville their department funding. Steve Robbins participated in some of the back and forth and replied to Prescott's question about his duty to "uphold the spirit of the town meeting form of government." It was a convenient outcry for the board members pressing the interests of Woodsville taxpayers at the expense of Haverhill taxpayers. 

      It was fitting when a remote viewer chimed in to remind everyone that--if the funding continues--it is actually Haverhill taxpayers paying for two highway and fire departments while Woodsville only has to pay for one of each. 

     The entire argument of needing to follow the will of the voters who approved the warrant articles also neglects to tell the full story of the "vote" that actually approved the latest contested Woodsville funding. It happened during the height of Covid infection season, during a winter storm, and there was extremely limited attendance at that town meeting. Town Counsel was not able to speak to explain their legal analysis of the articles. On top of this, town election official Regis Roy repeatedly told voters how to vote on the contested warrant articles, indicating that voters should approve them. 

      Roy received no firm punishment for her transgressions even though the vote went the way she obviously wanted it to. The election results themselves were always suspect as a result of this electioneering incident tainting the vote. The investigation's conclusion says it all: 

      "Based on our investigation, we find that your conduct was grossly inappropriate and antithetical to your duties as an election official. As an election official you swore an oath to faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties of your office and act consistent with the rules and regulations of the New Hampshire Constitution and state law. The evidence concerning your advocacy at the polls indicates that you failed in that fundamental responsibility and ignored your obligations to the voters to whom you owed a duty as an elected official." 

      Board Chairman Fred Garofalo took a view he was outnumbered on and tried to inject some basic reasoning into the whole back and forth at the September 26, 2022 Haverhill Select Board Meeting. Nobody mentioned the electioneering investigation into Roy and the consequences her vote suggestions had on the final outcome. 

       Perhaps the most compelling remarks that come from these passionate exchanges between the audience and the board about Woodsville is a particularly concerning bit of input provided by Robert Clegg, Jr., a well-experienced state legislator who passed away last August. Clegg explained that the town's lawyer should have been able to talk to town meeting voters about the legal issues swirling around the warrant articles:  

     "The law doesn't allow you to fund the municipality of Woodsville with Haverhill taxpayer money," said Clegg.  

      Clegg also pointed out an ethical "quandary" faced by board members who might benefit from their voting on how to proceed with the DRA. "If you benefit more than anybody else, then you have to step down," Clegg cautioned. So, before Selectman Steve Robbins ever had an opportunity to bring DTC attorneys into the picture with the stroke of a late pen, he was indirectly and publicly warned that he also had a textbook conflict when it came to the Woodsville funding. 

      It was also obvious from the September 26th board meeting that Board Chairman Fred Garofalo was not keen to go along with the voters' intent argument without looking deeply into the illegal article theory. It is no coincidence that soon after this very contentious hearing, the earliest line item on the DTC invoices is recorded on September 29, 2022 By DTC Attorney Eric Maher. It is the only entry for the 2022 calendar year and reads: 

     "Review materials provided by the Town; Review RSA Chapter 21; Attention to decision of DRA; Attention to warrant articles; Conference via email with Attorney Hawkins; Extended email to BOS member regarding response to materials provided; Review RSA Chapters 32 and 37; Review Town's Annual Report; Review Town Warrants and District Warrants; Extended conference with Attorney Hawkins regarding the same." 

     Hawkins and Maher obviously did not have a conflict waiver or retention agreement in place at the time the above referenced work was completed, allegedly on behalf of "the Town." Hawkins also explained repeatedly that he had no conflict as long as the board did not ask him to take a position on the Woodsville funding. The reality is Hawkins was always trying to find ways to take a pro-Woodsville approach during his entire term of purported engagement by "the Town" of Haverhill. 

     Woodsville Administrator Kevin Shelton and Woodsville Commissioner Steve Wheeler were also at that same September 26, 2022 Select Board Meeting. They argued vociferously for the board to make a motion to appeal the DRA's denial of their warrant articles as soon as the Haverhill tax rate was set. Prior to lobbying in public for the board to make that motion, Shelton himself griped aloud about how expensive it would be for Woodsville to appeal that DRA decision that effectively cut off their funding. The two Woodsville politicos proved above all that they both knew exactly what had to be done in that particular scenario at that particular time. Their back-and-forth banter with the board at that meeting is proof-positive that Woodsville's current appeal effort is a complete waste of time, money, and government resources. 

These days, Shelton and Wheeler seem to be playing Tweedledee and Tweedledum about the proper procedure they were supposed to follow to have legitimate standing to even file an effective appeal.     


     Haverhill Town Manager Brigitte Codling acted quickly when she first discovered Attorney Hawkins was working with the town's board of selectmen. She wrote an email to DTC Attorney Christopher Boldt on January 12, 2023 explaining: 

     "We have heard that Chris Hawkins, who represented the Woodsville District in their lawsuit against the Town of Haverhill, has been retained, by the Haverhill Board of Selectmen without my input or involvement. This is very concerning, as that is a very clear conflict of interest. We assumed that DTC would acknowledge that clear conflict and select an attorney on staff that had not had directly involved with that very contentious issue between the Town and the District. I do appreciate, as Haverhill's Town Manager, the willingness for DTC to assist us with the Tax Rate issue, but do not believe it is ethical for Chris Hawkins to represent the Town."

     Boldt's initials appear in the DTC billing statements next to a "background and strategy" line item for $76, indicating a conference he had with Hawkins just a few days later on January 16th, 2023. So, rather than acknowledging the conflict barrier and assigning another attorney, Boldt appears to have ignored the Town Manager's concerns and moved forward with advising Hawkins how to proceed. 

      Over the next few weeks, much of the DTC billing entries covered Right to Know request work they needed to complete. The DTC attorneys attempted to bill the town of Haverhill over $1,000 on work directly related to Right-to-Know requests and concerns. Much of the material the firm would have to give up as a result of right to know requests is spread throughout our reports on this site. All of it is on the Haverhill town Web-site

      Both the town manager and her assistant repeatedly reached out to DTC attorneys to ask about the progress on their conflict check. They were constantly left guessing. Showing a complete disdain for the logical course of action in such a scenario, DTC attorneys and conflicted board members fully embraced the conflict parameters instead of avoiding them. Rather than being satisfied with just a one-sided conflict, Attorney Christopher Hawkins invited Selectman Steve Robbins to live in the conflict cabin with him. That way they could enjoy matching conflicted interests on both sides of the attorney/client relationship. 

       It didn't take long for Robbins to be accused of profiting from his position on the board. He sent this text message to Attorney Hawkins in early March:

      Attorney Hawkins was now signaling that he would provide personal legal advice to Robbins on a matter outside the purview of a traditional attorney/client relationship between a firm and a town board. Just the mere fact that these allegations concerned Robbins enough to reach out to Hawkins shows there was enough impetus for Robbins to recuse himself from all discussions related to the Woodsville warrant articles at the heart of the DRA tax rate issue. Instead, he took leadership over many of those discussions and the process of attempting to legally hire the one attorney who would be most likely to fight to keep those warrant articles funded. 

      Robbins now obviously feels confident that his testimony will exonerate him from any blame here. Even an armchair lawyer can see the hopelessness in that approach. To quote current Board Chair Phil Blanchard in his remarks encouraging the resignation of Select Board Member Kevin Knapp: "Those lawyers are gonna tear that up. They're gonna hammer it." 

      DTC and the corrupted board members involved will have to pray they get a judge as biased and backwards as the Queen of Hearts herself if they hope to escape all accountability for this whole fiasco. Their legal defense just keeps getting "curioser and curioser."

       Recently, an open public hearing on Senate Bill 448 took place. The video is certainly worth watching. It begins around the 57:30 mark at the above link. Beyond the actual testimony, you get to see the reactions of some key audience members who likely don't even realize they are on camera. The usual suspects lined up in Woodsville's corner to speak on the pitfalls of the bill. Former Haverhill Select Board Member Matt Bjelobrk supported the bill but actually agreed with Woodsville Administrator Kevin Shelton on one point of his opposition to the bill. That was in the area of fees Woodsville would be liable for if any audit-related deadlines were missed. Shelton lamented about his district being singled out as the only municipality subject to such overbearing financial scrutiny. 

      Bjelobrk agreed it was not right that Woodsville would be the only municipality in the state to face such fees for being late with their DRA-mandated audits. "It should be something that's for all municipalities," said Bjelobrk. "It's not a bad idea." 

       Woodsville Commissioner Steve Wheeler spoke next. He ultimately argued that the state should stay out of Woodsville's affairs and noted the district has1,500 residents and not 1,000. Finally, he raised the prospect of Woodsville becoming a town of its own.  

      The DRA's Peter Roth took the quote of the day with this gem describing why Woodsville should keep enduring strict audits: "So right now at some level the fire department and the road department for at least 2022 are double funded. How that's gonna get sorted out is gonna be a problem that the department may have to look at." 

       It has been a long, winding and wild journey through the hills and valleys of these trials and tribulations involving backwards thinking and upside-down realities. Take a moment to digest the evidence and make your own conclusions. 

      Just one final thought before we adjourn until the next article: 

     "The time has come, my friends, to talk of other things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings. Calloo, callay, no work today, we're cabbages and kings!" The Walrus in Alice in Wonderland

CLICK HERE to read part one of this Haverhill/Woodsville series.

CLICK HERE to read part two of this Haverhill/Woodsville series.

Editor's Note: Plan B Justice is a volunteer effort that is only supported by donations. If you enjoy our content, please consider contributing to our cause. We can accept Venmo, Paypal or any credit or debit card through a Paypal invoice we can send to your email for your requested donation amount. Contact Founder Rich Bergeron at for more details. 

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Sunday, January 21, 2024

Bad Credit and Good Trouble: Breaking Down The Haverhill, NH Select Board's Dealings with Donahue Tucker and Ciandella Attorneys

"There's no limit to the good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit." 

General George C. Marshall 

      It is fitting that Ronald Reagan is often cited as the man responsible for the above quote when it was actually George C. Marshall who said it. It is a quote that sort of defines the Plan B Justice mission. It also drives our investigations. The Haverhill vs. Woodsville debacle has a few credit takers who ruthlessly violate the spirit of Marshall's quote, but in this circumstance the word "credit" has a double meaning. It has a financial connotation as well. 

      This is a situation where it's easy to spot the bad actors based on their incessant need to take that credit, whether they earned it or not. 

      We begin with the "crisis" that led us here: the NH Department of Revenue Administration refusing to set the tax rate for Haverhill, New Hampshire due to a New Hampshire Supreme Court appeal from Woodsville (a district within Haverhill) that was still pending at the time. That appeal just recently came before the state Supreme Court for oral argument on January 18, 2023. It was mostly a technical argument for the DRA attorney, while the Woodsville attorney went ballistic on the merits of a case that could be thrown out just for lack of jurisdictional standing. 

     The tax rate issue briefly put the town of Haverhill in a difficult position, but it did not take very long to remedy. Yet, the situation created the perfect window for a small-town coup attempt that featured severe conflicts of interest on both sides of the under the radar arrangement between corrupt attorneys and Haverhill Select Board members aligned with Woodsville.     

      Donahue Tucker & Ciandella (DTC) attorneys essentially took credit for work actually accomplished by another law firm and a local politician to expeditiously fix the tax rate problem. The Department of Revenue had already recognized Drummond Woodsum as the town's official counsel on the matter. Yet, the efforts of District 2 Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington turned out to be much more key to the setting of the tax rate than anything DTC attorneys did to address the situation. Before DTC attorneys even had their official hiring paperwork signed, Warmington personally attended a January 12, 2023 emergency meeting with Haverhill officials. 

Christopher "No Conflict Here" Hawkins

      By January 13th, DTC Attorney Christopher Hawkins was advising both Woodsville and Haverhill officials to thank Warmington for her efforts to get the tax rate set. Hawkins specifically stated that Warmington "moved Heaven and Earth to champion the town's interests." 

      Warmington herself put out a press release describing her involvement in getting the rate set:  


      As for the DRA, Revenue Counsel Peter Roth told DTC attorneys they were more of a hindrance than a help in his January 23, 2023 letter explaining, "DTC's overly aggressive approach to this matter will be remembered here. In my 33 years of practicing law I have not seen such theatrics from an ostensibly respectable firm, and it is disappointing to say the least. The Department sets hundreds of tax rates every year and none have proved as controversial as this Town's. Unfortunately, all of the difficulty was due to errors and omissions by the Town, the school district, and Woodsville and the needlessly contentious approach taken by them and by your firm."  

      Hawkins and his DTC colleagues had no qualms about taking undue credit for getting the Haverhill tax rate set. "We are proud of the work we did on the Town's behalf and have no problem accepting criticism for advocating for you too forcefully." wrote Hawkins in a January 25th, 2023 email to the Haverhill Board of Selectmen secret account, which DTC attorneys advised the board members to create. 

     The DTC attorneys also were not bashful in their written communications on the subject of their true purpose in working with Woodsville sympathizers on the Haverhill Select Board. Christopher Hawkins continuously brought up Town Manager Brigitte Codling and tried to build strategies for the board to work around her. 

     Town Manager forms of government with select boards are supposed to operate with a "checks and balances" mentality in mind at all times. If one entity goes rogue, the other is there by design to counterbalance those negative effects if the system is honest. So, it should have been plainly obvious to these DTC attorneys and the involved board members that working around Codling and subsequently trying to get her suspended or terminated with no real investigation into her conduct was directly contradictory to the very spirit of a Town Manager form of government. 

      This board indeed went rogue, publicly discussing the need to find an attorney with aligned interests first and then not even conducting any meaningful search for the man they wound up working with. Christopher Hawkins had conflicts six ways to Sunday and eight days a week on this case. He represented Woodsville against Haverhill in a very contentious and controversial case in the recent past. So, he crafted a very favorable conflict waiver for the tiny village district. He specifically drafted the document so that he could work for Haverhill's Board of Selectmen this time on behalf of his friends in the district of Woodsville. The waiver Hawkins and Woodsville signed would not even permit Hawkins to do anything for Haverhill which might adversely impact Woodsville. 

      The only signature from any board member on both the waiver and retainment agreement for Attorney Hawkins and his DTC colleagues was that of Selectman Steve Robbins. Robbins is an executive level employee of the Woodsville Fire Department.  By law he should have recused himself from any vote or discussion on the matter since it tied directly to warrant articles that could impact his personal finances. He was obligated to either leave the room or sit in the audience during any discussions of that funding, and that certainly makes his lone signature on all the legal paperwork very suspect in hindsight. 

     Clearly the DTC attorneys involved should have been astute enough to realize they could have had any other board member sign these documents in order to bypass this very issue. If DTC attorneys can accomplish the impossible and get even a small portion of their bill for all these legal shenanigans paid, the town may still have a case for malpractice against them. There are just so many steps in this where an honest and forthright approach that was completely by the book was needed. Instead, DTC attorneys burned the book and did it their own way, secretly and stupidly, with unethical motives and unclean hands. 

      The particular circumstances and facts of each legal case must be factored into the determination of whether an official should be disqualified from acting on a matter. However, the general rule is that a conflict of interest requiring disqualification will be found when an official has a direct personal or pecuniary (financial) interest in the outcome. That interest must be “immediate, definite and capable of demonstration; not remote, uncertain, contingent or speculative.” (see Atherton v. Concord, 109 N.H. 164 (1968)). As the Court in Atherton explained, “The reasons for this rule are obvious. A man cannot serve two masters at the same time, and the public interest must not be jeopardized by the acts of a public official who has a personal financial interest which is, or may be, in conflict with the public interest.”  

  A public officer is disqualified if he has “a direct personal and pecuniary interest” in the decision. (see Preston v. Gillam, 104 N.H. 279 (1962)). However, the interest must be “immediate, definite, and capable of demonstration; not remote, uncertain, contingent, and speculative, that is, such that men of ordinary capacity and intelligence would not be influenced by it.” Atherton v. Concord, 109 N.H. 164 (1968)  

    When in doubt, a public official should naturally step down. Under the rule of the Winslow and Keene cases, a court will overturn a board’s decision if a disqualified person participated, whether or not he or she influenced the outcome. See Appeal of Keene, 141 N.H. 797 (1997); Winslow v. Holderness Planning Board, 125 N.H. 262 (1984). Usually, it is not worth risking having a decision overturned because of a conflict of interest. 

      Instead of the full board getting a second opinion from a disconnected party with clean hands to handle their pressing issues, the Woodsville sympathizers on the Haverhill Board of Selectmen found the most conflicted attorney in the DTC firm to press their campaign against a town manager just trying to follow the advice of longtime town Counsel Drummond Woodsum. The most conflicted board member added insult to injury by being the only one to put his signature on all the crucial paperwork. 

     Board Member Michael Graham first contacted Christopher Hawkins in May of 2022. Hawkins was not hired then. Board Member Kevin Knapp then reached out again to Hawkins specifically in September of 2022. Hawkins was not hired then, either. That happened a few months later, under the guise of a false alarm regarding the tax rate. 

      Through secretive "non-meetings" with conflicted board members that Attorney Hawkins was able to arrange, the Board Members and the former Woodsville attorney plotted their course to discipline the town manager and preferably remove her from office. Yet, not one formal charge of misconduct was ever lobbied against Codling, and no disciplinary measure ever moved forward against her under DTC's guidance of the board. 

      Nowhere else is the bias and conflict Attorney Hawkins ignored to pursue this opportunity more apparent than in his own written communications with colleagues and the Haverhill Select Board Members he dealt with to appease Woodsville's best interests at the expense of Haverhill taxpayers. 

     Instead of doing the real foundational work for getting the tax rate set by the DRA, Hawkins began immediately attempting to fulfill the board's true "secret" mission. That was to do whatever it took to exclude Haverhill Town Manager Brigitte Codling from all crucial discussions, since the true purpose of DTC's hiring was to seek "disciplinary action" against Codling. 

      Before the signature of Robbins appeared on any DTC retention agreement or final conflict waiver, Attorney Hawkins received a critical email from colleague Eric Maher on January 11, 2023 in which Maher detailed a conversation he had with Assistant Town Manager Jennifer Boucher. 

       Maher stated plainly at the end of the email: "I made no mention of the Town Manager during that discussion or the Select Board's concerns with her." 

      This clearly indicates that Hawkins and Maher both understood the board's clear intent to ostracize Codling. However, it is hard to imagine a scenario where any unconflicted legal team would actually follow such a course of action before any definitive conduct investigation occurred which would give the attorneys any basis to seek disciplinary action against Codling. It is also even more difficult to fathom how a "municipal expert" like Attorney Maher could put such a statement in writing. It seems more likely that the conflicted board members involved actually instructed DTC attorneys to keep Codling in the dark. The attorneys obviously gladly obliged rather than independently examining the facts and whether there was any real reason to justify locking the town manager out of legal discussions between Board Members and DTC lawyers. 

       Just four days after Maher told Hawkins their secret was safe, on January 15th at 10:04 AM, Hawkins wrote an even more suspicious email to Maher about the mission plan for removing Codling from office. 

       "Leaving aside all else, I don't believe we will be able to get Haverhill on track so long as Brigitte Codling remains in the mix," Hawkins wrote "She will take steps large and small to undercut and undermine our progress and continue to sow dissent and otherwise make trouble. I think we need to be prepared to recommend her administrative suspension and get either Glenn English or someone from MRI in there ASAP. I think we also need to be prepared to do the same with Jennifer Boucher, who will probably serve as a backdoor source of information for Brigitte while she is on suspension. The timing is delicate given the tax situation and the upcoming Town elections, but the Town may need to bite the bullet."

      Aside from having no legal, statutory or procedural basis to remove Codling, Hawkins actually suggests pursuing an administrative suspension against Boucher simply because she "will probably serve as a backdoor source of information for Brigitte while she is on suspension." In other words, they want to basically arrest her for a future crime she has even not committed yet. Obviously this is just discussion between colleagues and nothing ever came of it, but it's easy to wonder how these attorneys thought that this kind of "administrative suspension" would be achieved with absolutely no evidence of malfeasance. Also, if Codling ever "made trouble" it was the kind of "good trouble" Former Congressman John Lewis often spoke about before his passing. 

      Hawkins additionally reveals his true sympathies for Woodsville by name-dropping Glenn English in the email. English revealed in a long deposition that he made serious accounting errors in providing Woodsville with funding over the term of his employment as Haverhill Town Manager. Another legal document summarizes some of that testimony and includes a voluminous set of accounting figures to explain the "memorandum of understanding" that governed the Haverhill to Woodsville funding agreement for years. This packet of crucial information was part of the town of Haverhill's legal defense in a lawsuit filed against the town over the Woodsville Fire Department funding. The document includes the following glaring statement: 

        "For example, Mr. English testified that 'gross budget' is a 'made up phrase,' and did not know the difference between a net operating budget and a gross operating budget, and repeatedly misused the term 'expenditure' in the context of municipal budgets." 

      It seems like Woodsville enjoyed the benefit of English's fuzzy math, and their old legal crusader wanted him back at the helm to do more of it. The accounting of Woodsville's finances will be the focus of a future installment here on the site, because it really needs an article all on its own. 

       The NH Department of Revenue Administration has also taken a keen interest in Woodsville's accounting practices over the years. Woodsville's "special" district status gives it a very unique set of rules and regulations on how funds are supposed to be kept, spent and raised. These complex guidelines provide convenient cover for the old "we didn't know that" excuse. This put Woodsville's administrators in a position of asking for forgiveness instead of permission when formal audits began to uncover serious irregularities.  

      James Gerry, the former Director of the NH Department of Revenue Administration, testified at a hearing on Senate Bill 26 in May of 2022 and explained: 

     "NH law mandates that all municipalities with populations greater than 750 conduct an annual audit. Now over the last 20 years the Woodsville Fire District attempted to complete just one audit, and that was in 2014, and that audit was not completed because officials in the district refused to provide the necessary documents over a dispute about confidentiality." 

     He continued, "Since 2014 the district elected numerous auditors and made statements both to the public and the DRA that they had audited financials, but after we investigated the situation we realized the locally elected auditors never actually performed an audit and the audited financial statements they claimed to have were nothing more than unaudited financial statements." 

     "The first time we actually saw movement toward completing an audit was when SB414 was introduced last year. This bill which passed the house and senate imposed the same penalties that this bill does for not completing their audits in a timely fashion. As a result of the pressure put on the district in 2020, they engaged the firm Plozdik and Sanderson to do at least 5 years of audits. As of today, they have completed 3 years of audits. These audits have revealed numerous violations of state statues, these include violations of RSA 32 municipal budget law, RSA 33 municipal finance act, and additional violations of RSA 41." 

     "Some of the violations include taking out loans without first getting approval from the voters. Under New Hampshire law you are supposed to get 60 percent approval from the voters. They took out loans without getting any support from the electorate. Filing incomplete and misleading forms with the DRA that concealed these loans and making risky investments contrary to state law. The DRA is in the process of further investigating these violations. This includes co-mingling of funds."

    "The audits also have detailed concerns not under the purview of the DRA, one such example which has been talked about, was the district falsely reporting to the NH retirement system over an 11 year period, about an employee they had miscategorized, in additional to the numerous violations of statutes the audit detailed the district had no meaningful internal controls in place that would minimize the risk of fraud or errors, in fact the audit states the following: 'Based upon the audit procedures and observations during the audit we noted the district has a lack of internal controls and direction regarding the accounting system and overall fiscal mismanagement.'"

     The entirety of the hearing is worth watching and listening to, especially if you pay close attention to the "Glenn English" profile that pops up with Former Woodsville Commissioner Dick Guy speaking first, then Glenn English. The feed appears to be a broadcast directly from the building housing the Woodsville Fire Department. 

Dick Guy (left), Woodsville Administrator Kevin Shelton (behind Guy), and Woodsville Commissioner Steve Wheeler (at right, mostly off camera)

Glenn English speaking (with Steve Wheeler standing directly behind him)

     Steve Robbins also speaks in the footage for a few minutes, railing on about "double taxation." English himself reveals his history as Haverhill's town manager, a longtime Woodsville resident and a family business owner. His sympathies are obvious as he opines for the way things used to be. 

     Unfortunately for SB26 detractors in the footage, the whole idea of any "double taxation" going on under the town's proposal to take over the responsibilities of Woodsville's road maintenance is a pipe dream. The proposed singular road crew that would then cover the whole town effectively eliminates the existence of two highway departments Woodsville would have to pay for. There is also no double taxation under a unification strategy the Town Manager is trying to implement with all the other districts and the town's core fire department. 

      During a recent interview, former Woodsville Commissioner Dick Guy (pictured above) was quick to point out that the Haverhill Select Board actually conceived the funding arrangement that gave rise to this whole controversy. He also said in the past the district and the town had a very cooperative relationship. Their departments often assisted each other. 

     Guy specifically objected to the term "gravy train" used in a previous article on this site. Former New Hampshire Senator Bob Giuda used that phrase a few times in his public remarks on SB26 (see hearing link above), which was designed to eliminate the state requirement for Haverhill to fund Woodsville's road maintenance. 

     "There was never a gravy train," said Guy. "And you didn't need to be accountable for the money, because it was Woodsville's own money. If they want to take it and put it in a pile and burn it, that's their problem. But, they used it for the highway, of course they did. They needed it."

     As far as Haverhill taking over road maintenance for Woodsville, Guy doesn't think the town knows what it's getting itself into. He insists the village district has different needs than the rest of the town due to complicated drainage systems and having so many paved roads while the rest of Haverhill is mostly dirt and gravel roads. Though there is argument over whether Woodsville has 12 miles of roads or just 8 in some calculations, either figure makes most people ask, "what's the big deal?" Guy explains that "there's a lot more work to paved infrastructure." 

     "In fact it would be very advantageous to Woodsville to let the town of Haverhill maintain our roads," Guy continued. He said then the burden would be on Haverhill as a whole and not on just the taxpayers of Woodsville the way it is now. He also suggested keeping the highway department in Woodsville intact and just relieving the district's taxpayers from their obligations to pay Haverhill Highway Department taxes.

       Any suggestion of merging departments, either fire or highway, is a non-starter for Guy. He speaks of a bitter rivalry that sounds a lot like the Hatfields and McCoys minus the extreme violence that plagued that famous feud. Nobody's getting shot over these politics, but Guy said Woodsville employees will suffer from major morale problems if any merger happens.   

      Guy was very dismissive of any suggestion that Woodsville's financial history is troubling. "The DRA wanted us to do really deep audits. They audited all the years in question. And they came up with, 'Yeah you guys did some procedure things wrong.' But there was no money issues. There was no money missing. They found, 'Yeah, you put money into a savings account, but you have to have voter permission to do it, so that's against the law.' And we were just thinking, hey, we'll make some interest money for the public, you know." 

     Audits finally performed for Woodsville in recent years revealed even more instances of financial mismanagement, but Guy maintains the old "who knew" defense. Since "Special" District territories like Woodsville have such unique circumstances and sometimes extremely antiquated rules of operation, it's an easy fallback excuse. It's also one that is not likely to work again in the future, as state legislators are in the midst of trying to pass another bill requiring long term auditing of Woodsville's books by the Department of Revenue Administration. If the bill passes, the future audits will have to be completed at Woodsville's own expense. 

     Senate Bill 448 even imposes financial penalties for Woodsville if it does not comply with strict guidelines for those proposed audits, explained as follows: 

"Pursuant to 2021, 91:435, the Woodsville fire district shall provide financial audits by a certified public accountant approved by the department of revenue administration that is compliant with generally accepted accounting practices (GAAP), of all funds received from the town of Haverhill and all other sources including state and federal funds, and of all funds expended by the fire district, for each calendar year commencing January 1 of the year after passage, as directed by the department of revenue administration.  The department of revenue administration shall approve the scope of the audit and shall receive monthly updates from the certified public accountant and the Woodsville fire district on the status of the audit while it is in progress.  The results of the audit shall be published on the town of Haverhill website within 60 days of delivery by the certified public accountant to the Woodsville fire district and the department of revenue administration.  The audit shall be at the expense of the Woodsville fire district.  Reimbursement of any expenses related to the audit incurred by the department of revenue administration shall be in accordance with the provisions of RSA 21-J:22.  The department of revenue administration may levy a fine of $250 per day against the Woodsville fire district for every day of noncompliance with section 3 of this act beyond one year from the effective date of section 3 of this act.  The commissioner may waive such fine at his or her discretion, subject to the good faith efforts of the Woodsville fire district to comply with all relevant laws and the provisions of section 3 of this act."

     Dick Guy is not particularly concerned about new audits. "That's not a problem," he said. "I think they're doing audits continuously now, so who cares?" He is no longer commissioner in the district, but he still seems always ready and willing to serve as the unofficial spokesman for the community. Guy has been a longtime EMT in Woodsville and has an intimate connection to the Fire Department. 

    The scene Guy describes now is full of consternation and mistrust. It is no secret he is a vehement opponent of Town Manager Brigitte Codling. He suggested we look into Codling's history in Cabot, Vermont and with the Vermont Department of Transportation. "The town didn't do a good job of vetting her when they hired her," he said. "I'm not a big fan." 

     A simple Google search for Codling associated with Cabot, Vermont mostly turned up articles about her stance on unifying the area's schools. She defends her record as an employee of the state of Vermont as "exemplary." Guy, just like the attorneys, seems to be eager to eject Codling from her post without due cause or any hard evidence she did anything irresponsible or punishable by even the slightest of penalties. 

     Guy has a reputation for even more staunchly demonstrated opposition of the Haverhill Town Manager. She even maintains that he personally approached her after a contentious hearing in Concord once and whispered in her ear, "You'll be gone in a year." The comment set her off, and Selectman Darwin Clogston had to intervene. 

      Guy has also put his name on local newspaper advertisements seeking Codling's removal from office and supported other unique efforts to force her out. It seems this highly personal feud has him not even wanting to own property in Haverhill anymore. He said he used to own six properties in Haverhill, but he is trying to get his wife to sell the last property they own there "so I don't even have to hear this anymore." 

      What Guy says about Attorney Christopher Hawkins is also intriguing. He recalled that the attorney put in very good work on the district's lawsuit against the town and particularly enjoyed the "scathing" letter Hawkins drafted to deal with the DRA tax rate setting issue. Guy said he received a copy of the letter and "my hands got hot when I read it." He also is convinced that the DRA "caved" upon reading the contents of the same letter. "I think their attorney had to agree he was right," insisted Guy. 

     He argues the Haverhill Board of Selectmen hired Hawkins "because he's so good." He admits he spoke with a couple of the involved board members recently and he is confident they will testify if it comes to that point in the existing legal conflict between DTC attorneys and the town. "It's gonna be three or four selectmen versus the town manager on that. She's gonna be outnumbered on who said what." 

      Guy comes across as very sincere. He believes in what he talks about. However, he doesn't really do well in describing the reasons why Woodsville absolutely needs their own independent fire and highway departments. He also fails to provide any valid reason why the fire and highway departments as they exist in Woodsville could not find a way to merge with Haverhill's departments so people could keep their jobs. On top of all that, he did not ever really cry poverty. He never claimed that without the yearly funds from Haverhill, the district couldn't afford their own departments if they still wanted them. 

    Dick Guy seems more convinced the best course of action would be for Woodsville to secede and become an independent town of their own. At the same time, he also admits the precinct probably couldn't afford to actually take that step. Rather than come up with another contentious "formula" to forgive some portion of taxes and set up some other financial arrangement to fight about down the line, Codling simply wants to provide a town-wide solution for all the districts. 

     As an investigative reporter with a great deal of experience with how corruption works in the government and corporate world, I can see how Codling would face such heavy opposition to eliminating duplicative efforts and whittling down a bureaucracy to a more manageable size. It's not a popular choice, even if it's fiscally responsible. 

     As an outsider looking in, I see Woodsville's actions regarding this funding as akin to the temper tantrum of a petulant teenager, an overgrown child used to getting a hefty allowance from their parents who is then told to go get a job and pay their own way because they've grown up. Rather than forge their own path and seek their own self-funded financial security, Woodsville's officials are as vigilant as ever about getting back to the gravy train glory days. The people still in charge seem like they would rather find some way to travel back in time rather than even think about adjusting for the future, and they would rather be able to form their own town than think about merging two of their departments with Haverhill's. 

     "They just want to fight," Dick Guy told me about the two current town officials I contacted in the same email I sent to him. (Paul Kidder and Steve Wheeler)

      "I keep reading about and hearing about how the town of Haverhill is more divided than ever. Obviously the path forward is not to go back," Former Haverhill Selectman Darwin Clogston once said about this situation. He's right. It is not the 1800s anymore. Woodsville is all grown up now. If they still want their own big, fancy departments instead of depending on Haverhill's, they can use their "lucrative enterprise" revenue to pay for those departments. 

CLICK HERE to read part one of this Haverhill/Woodsville series.

CLICK HERE to read part three of this Haverhill/Woodsville series.

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