By RUSS CHOMA
Union Leader Correspondent
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005
Chester — Selectmen say they will not release a report compiled by two private investigators the board hired earlier this fall.
Board members have yet to say exactly why the private investigators were hired, or what they found, but at Thursday night’s meeting, Selectman Stephen Landau did connect their work to the situation with former administrative assistant Victoria MacLaughlin.
While speaking as a private citizen during the public comment session of Thursday’s meeting, Landau said the $6,000 the investigators billed the town was part of the total cost of the MacLaughlin episode.
According to a copy of a bill submitted to the town by Gianturco Investigations of North Reading, Mass., a number of interviews were conducted between Nov. 9 and Nov. 15 by at least two investigators. The bill details 71 hours of work, including interviews at the Chester town offices and as far away as Franconia, but does not give any specific information about the subject of the investigation.
Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, several residents pressed board members on why the investigators were hired and what they looked into.
Resident Barbara Dolloff told selectmen she wanted the town to move beyond the controversy over MacLaughlin, but without more information about the investigators’ work, she said it would be like “closing the door with a foot in it.”
“I want to know the finding in the P.I.’s report — I helped pay for it, so I feel I should get to see it,” Dolloff said. “Just tell the truth and the moving on will happen.”
Geoffrey Barnett, chairman of the board of selectmen, told Dolloff and others who inquired about the report that the board would not release the report because the town’s attorneys had advised them not to.
“We paid these people good money for a good reason, and when they say ‘Don’t do it,’ we’re not going to do it,” he said. “I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. I don’t write the rules, but I’ve got to play by the rules.”
On Dec. 16, the New Hampshire Union Leader submitted a right-to-know request, asking the town to release the report. The report has not yet been made public and even though state law requires a written reply within five days of a request, one has not been issued.
At Thursday’s meeting, Landau said the report will probably be removed from town records.
“The report has a shelf life, and it’s going to be destroyed at some point after that,” Landau said.
Landau said that unless MacLaughlin or her attorneys ask for it to be made public, the report will be kept out of the public light. Landau said he and other board members have tried to quell the controversy.
“We have tried to remain — I wouldn’t say neutral — but entirely unbiased about it, as far as I’m concerned,” Landau said. “It keeps on coming up, but we’re not the ones bringing it up.”
Later in the meeting, resident Robert Brown said the board’s handling of MacLaughlin’s leave looked like the pursuit of a “personal vendetta” and the use of private investigators seemed like they were trying to find evidence of a crime.
“It was quite frightening to me, frankly, that we were hiring a private investigator entity to chase down evidence of a crime yet to be determined,” he said. “We don’t hire a private police force to start looking under rugs and in trash cans … in hopes of discovering a crime.”