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Lisbon selectman serving on a panel of one

Union Leader Correspondent

March 30. 2017 6:52PM
Sworn in just hours earlier as a Lisbon selectman, Scott Champagne is the only selectman on what's supposed to be a three-member panel. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

LISBON — Scott Champagne was sworn in this week as a selectman, and he will take his seat as the only member of what is supposed to be a three-person board.

“According to what I’ve heard, there’s no precedent for this type of situation,” said Champagne.

During a recent interview, he smiled at Lisbon’s current political circumstance, which began on March 21 at the town elections when he easily beat two challengers, including incumbent Peter Nightingale, for a three-year term as selectman.

Less than 24 hours earlier, during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Lisbon Board of Selectmen, the entire board, including Nightingale, Matthew Yeramian and Chairman Thomas Demers, resigned from their positions.

The resignations followed what Demers said was the “final straw” in a long-running dispute between the selectmen and a group of residents.

On the advice of town attorney Walter Mitchell — and based on past conversations officials have had with the state Attorney General’s Office, the Secretary of State’s Office and the state Department of Revenue Administration — Champagne said he will act as a one-man board and the town’s executive officer until a resolution can be reached.

Champagne said he will preside over and be an attending selectman at the April 4 meeting of the Lisbon Board of Selectmen.

Champagne is a retired detective sergeant with the New Hampshire State Police and was just reelected to a third three-year term on the Lisbon-Lyman School Board.

On March 22, Champagne, who is also a part-time driver for Barry Transportation and a part-time rural mail carrier, learned that he had been elected a selectman.

Champagne has said the immediate challenge is to find a way to legally place a second person on the board, after which the two selectmen can then appoint a third member to the panel.

The secretary of state has made “some recommendations” on how the first step may play out, said Champagne.

He declined to get more specific, although Town Clerk Jennifer Trelfa has said it could require going to Grafton County Superior Court for guidance.

Several of the nearly 200 voters at town meeting spoke several times about providing the incoming board with as many resources as possible, including adopting a budget and soundly rejecting a warrant article that would have eliminated the town administrator position.

That position was a point of contention between the past board and its critics. In July 2016, then Town Administrator Dan Merhalski survived a petition effort to remove him, but after a similar measure was placed on this year’s town warrant, Merhalski resigned.

“The townspeople in general are very decent,” and the majority of them want to put the past behind them, said Champagne, adding that the majority of voters at town meeting seemed in favor of having a town administrator — even if only part-time.

“I concur that we should at least have a part-time town administrator,” Champagne said.

Asked about the future, Champagne said he is optimistic. “I feel good. I know there’s a ton of work ahead for us as selectmen, employees and town residents — everybody. But I know, like at the town meeting, where people came together to pass a budget, that we can move forward.”

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