To the editor,
The Portsmouth Town Council met with four representatives of the Department of Environmental Management in executive session on April 1 to discuss the department’s order to construct a sewer system in the Island Park and Portsmouth Park communities.
The council decided to meet with the DEM representatives in executive session under the exemption for a public meeting for “litigation.” As both parties to the potential litigation were present in executive session, it is obvious that the need for secrecy was not to preserve litigation strategies and information, but to prevent the people discovering deals being made.
The council denied the public the opportunity to evaluate whatever agreement was made, and who supported the proposal. All attempts by the citizens present to speak to the motion to go into executive session were rejected by the council president, departing from a long tradition in Portsmouth providing citizens an opportunity to speak to motions before public bodies. The council clearly did not want to hear the public’s ideas or answer questions before the meeting with DEM. Although two members of the council, Ms. Pedro and Mr. Gleason, voted against the motion, the council’s majority decided otherwise.
Council members did speak during the open meeting following the discussions with DEM, and invited public comment, but they were rather vague as to the nature of any agreements. A motion to modify the town’s wastewater ordinance and supporting plan to meet DEM objectives was passed in open session, but the details were withheld.
Councilwoman Liz Pedro voiced objections to the proceedings following the closed meeting, but was limited in her comments by the constraints of executive session.
The town estimates the cost of the ordered sewer system at $60 million. Divided by the number of homes involved, the cost comes to $61,412 each. While it is clear that a traditional sewer system is not likely to be installed, there is no public verification of that assertion. We only have opinions of what has transpired in closed sessions. Over the three and a half years since the order to build sewers was issued, no council decision has ever been made in public.
We are long past the point where the people involved should have the facts. Any deals made in closed session immediately bring forth suspicions of backroom deals. If DEM was giving up the fight to impose sewers on the citizens of Portsmouth, then the council should have been willing to conduct the meeting in public, and celebrate the victory. That they did not choose an open meeting suggests that we are not going to like the outcome.
President, Portsmouth Concerned Citizens