In Shakespeare’s Hamlet there is a famous quote that “Something is wrong in Denmark.” Perhaps this should be rephrased to “Something is wrong in Hampton.”
At Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting Chairman Waddell reported that he had been hired to fill a part time program coordinator position on the Town’s Cable TV committee that includes $20,000 a year in wages. He indicated that the Selectmen had no involvement in the hiring process and the item was not listed on the agenda, thus there was no opportunity for Public Comment. The need for the position had been discussed on several occasions over the past couple of years. It was approved at the August 22, 2016 Selectmen’s meeting at which time Selectmen Waddell abstained from the vote without explanation. Chairman Waddell indicated that three other people had applied for the position, but that all three withdrew their applications. No explanation was provided for the withdrawal of the other candidates. His announcement appeared to be to assuage anyone who might raise an eyebrow about conflicts of interest or a lack of transparency.
In 2015 the Cable Committee was receiving 25% of the franchise fees that Comcast was charging its Cable TV customers with the remaining 75%, about $250,000 in 2015, being applied to reduce property taxes. In 2016 the Selectmen sponsored a Warrant Article that would have increased the Cable Committee portion from 25% to 40% of franchise fees. Ironically, it was Selectman Waddell who introduced an amendment to the article at the Deliberative Session to increase the Cable committee’s portion from 40% to 100% of franchise fees. This amendment effectively diverted another $200,000 that had historically been used to reduce taxes to the Cable TV fund. No plan was provided as to how the additional funds were to be used. Rational Taxpayers of Hampton opposed the warrant article; however, the voters approved it by a 5% margin. We do not believe that the article would have passed if it were not for the fact that the Finance Department fiscal impact note on the ballot indicated that there was “no tax impact” from this article. In reality if approved, taxes would increase by about $250,000 every year going forward. We foresaw the committee going on a spending spree with this level of excess funds, and sure enough a couple of weeks after the vote at the March 28, 2016 Selectmen’s meeting it was Selectmen Waddell who suggested that the Cable Committee’s salaries needed to be looked into. There was a legitimate need for SAU 90 to have its own cable station and that we applaud, but frankly now we have a new part time position being created and who knows what else will be coming down the pike. A year down the road, the picture quality and audio on Channel 22 is still poor.
We wonder how long Chairman Waddell has had his eye on this position.
It makes no sense that the Town of Hampton Code of Ethics requires that any proposal for part time employment of a Department Head’s immediate family shall be subject to prior approval by a majority of the Board of Selectmen, yet we have a situation in which the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen has been appointed to a $20,000 a year position by the Assistant Town Manager and two other people whose wages the Chairman has influence over, without the approval or even prior knowledge of the other Selectmen.
We see this as yet another example of back room dealings that set a bad precedent and represent the unacceptable role that cronyism is playing in the management of Town affairs.