The uncertainty surrounding the vacant seat on the Hampton Board of Selectmen came to an end Monday night, as Hampton Budget Committee member Mike Plouffe was appointed to the position vacated by Ben Moore.
Selectmen voted 3-0-1 in favor of Plouffe, a former selectman, after selectmen had no public discussion about any of the four candidates. Chairman Dick Nichols and members Mary-Louise Woolsey and Mike Pierce voted in favor of Plouffe — who is the only one of the four candidates not to have spoken at any public session, including Monday's, about his desire and vision for the position.
Phil Bean, whose controversial removal as board chairman prompted Moore to resign, abstained from the vote.
Woolsey made the motion to nominate Plouffe after stating that the town was "exceptionally fortunate" to have former selectmen Rick Griffin and Brian Warburton, as well as Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire President Dave Lang express interest in the position.
Griffin, Lang and Warburton all spoke about their qualifications and ideologies during Monday's meeting.
Pierce echoed Woolsey's sentiments after seconding her motion, stating that selecting between the candidates would be "tough" and that all four are "very qualified people." No further discussion occurred Monday on the subject, possibly because Woolsey told media members after the meeting that she feels "nitpicking" the qualifications of the various candidates in a public session is "silly" and a "slippery slope."
"Why does [Plouffe] have to be vetted [by or in front of the public]?" said Woolsey, stating that she has "tremendous faith and confidence" in his abilities and said she chose him because she hopes he'll bring a "calm and workman-like approach" to the board. "His name is out there. He's certainly well known in the community."
Those comments came after Woolsey defended her decision to call for Bean to be removed as chairman by stating that the board has "no choice but to do what" they "do in public" even if it can be misconstrued as being "mean" or "rotten."
"I'm not here to fool around," she said. "If something needs to be adjusted, we're going to do. We've got to do it, and if that gets people mad at you, so be it. That's part of that job... but at least the public has to see what's happening, whether they agree or not, whether they understand or not. It's out there in public and it happens."
Resident Diandra Sanphy, who served a one-year term on the Hampton Budget Committee last year alongside then-committee Vice Chairman Woolsey, said she was so outraged at Plouffe's selection and Woolsey’s actions while watching Monday's meeting on her TV that she drove down to voice her "disgust" to the media present.
"Those three people made an effort — an actual effort," said Sanphy, referring to Griffin's, Lang's and Warburton's discussions in public forums and responses to inquiries from local residents about why they sought the position. "How can you appoint someone who hasn't come out [and spoken to the public]?
"I absolutely think that after having served on that budget committee and having watched how things go, he's a rubber stamp for Mary-Louise. I feel like I made a huge mistake in voting for her and putting her in office because I think she's caused more trouble since she's gone on this board… I think people are shocked. I think [selectmen] owe a huge apology to everybody who came out who actually put in time and effort to get on this board."
Other residents weigh in on the vote here.
Lang said after the meeting he has no comments about the individual candidates or statements made by selectmen, and said regardless of the outcome of the appointment that "majority rules" and that it is the board's "job to make a decision. Now it's residents' "job to get behind that decision," he said.
Plouffe has a "proven track record," and has much experience, according to Lang. Lang also said residents have the ability to make a change if they wish at the town meeting elections in March when Nichols, Pierce and Plouffe are all up for reelection, if they decide to run.
Lang hasn't yet decided as of Monday night whether to run for one of the three open seats in March. He said he does plan to float the idea to the public through something he calls the “Hannaford test,” a public information-soliciting process in which he engages often by talking with residents at the local supermarket.
Plouffe is expected to be sworn in ahead of the next selectmen meeting on Monday, June 24.