After being denied a finder’s fee earlier this year, a local real estate agent is demanding $15,000, a public apology and a retraction from the city of Keene.
H. Gregory Johnson appeared before the City Council’s finance, organization and personnel committee in late April, requesting compensation for facilitating a relationship between the city and Froling Energy, a Peterborough company that bought a portion of the former city landfill at 560 Main St. for $250,000.
Johnson argued in April that his communication with City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon over several months led him to believe he would receive a 3 percent fee for the sale. But when it came time to get the council’s permission to negotiate the property sale, the letter says, Dragon told Johnson to use the public channels to request his money.
The majority of the finance committee, which includes Councilors Mitchell H. “Mitch” Greenwald and Terry M. Clark, both fellow real estate agents, recommended against his request. City staff argued there was never any signed agreement that he would be paid, but Johnson insisted he provided his services in good faith.
At a council meeting a week later, an amendment to allow Dragon to negotiate a finder’s fee failed, 8-5.
Jeremy D. Eggleton, Johnson’s attorney, laid out these details in a letter sent to Dragon and the council in June, which demanded $10,000 — $7,500 for the fee, plus “convenience damages, late fees and attorney’s fees and costs to date.”
Johnson said Friday that, after that letter, someone filed an anonymous complaint with the N.H. Real Estate Commission regarding the sale of 560 Main St.
In a second demand letter, sent Sept. 20, Johnson’s attorney wrote that an investigator with the state agency, Michael Porter, reviewed the facts and determined Johnson acted lawfully as a facilitator, as defined in a state statute pertaining to real estate practices. That chapter states that parties “may or may not enter into a contractual relationship” with a facilitator.
Following that investigation, Eggleton wrote, Johnson learned that statements made by Clark and Greenwald in the council and committee meetings last spring could be considered defamatory.
At the top of the April 25 meeting, committee Chairman Greenwald cited past business dealings with Johnson and asked to be recused, but his colleagues split 2-2, and the request was denied.
During that meeting, Clark and Greenwald faulted Johnson over the lack of a signed contract.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that a lot of work was done,” Greenwald said, “but I think that there are enough violations of real estate practice that I’m really, really uncomfortable with, just thinking of the Real Estate Commission taking a look at this.”
Greenwald and Clark both insisted several times that a signed agency agreement is required by law.
“Mr. Johnson, I’ve been in the business six years and I feel very uncomfortable schooling someone who has been in this business for a very long time and who I’ve looked up to for years, and there are many of these processes that were neglected,” Clark said.
At the council meeting May 2, Clark told his colleagues that, because Johnson didn’t have a signed agreement, “he broke the rules right away, and I’m not sure why he would want to bring this public because there’s a considerable fine involved if he were brought before the [real estate] commission.”
Eggleton included an increased demand in his September letter, asking for $15,000, along with a public apology to Johnson and an on-the-record retraction of statements made by Clark and Greenwald “concerning the lawfulness of Mr. Johnson’s conduct.”
That letter was addressed to Dragon and the City Council, along with Clark, Greenwald and City Attorney Thomas P. Mullins.
Eggleton received a response Oct. 15 from Joshua Hilliard of Maggiotto, Friedman, Feeney & Fraas PLLC, a firm retained by Primex, a risk management service used by public bodies, including Keene.
Hilliard first wrote that, under the circumstances described, city councilors are afforded “absolute immunity” for their statements and thus the defamation claim is denied.
Regarding the request for a finder’s fee, Hilliard maintained prior assertions by city staff: Because there was no signed contract, the city is not obligated to pay, and that Dragon was clear throughout her communication with Johnson that she did not have the authority to promise payment.
“Any correspondence that we receive from Mr. Johnson or his attorney has been forwarded to outside legal counsel,” Dragon said Friday afternoon, declining to comment further.
Johnson said he didn’t want to make another move until after the election to avoid the appearance of a political motive. Now, he only says he hasn’t filed a lawsuit and declined to elaborate on his planned next steps.
Greenwald was one of two candidates for mayor in Keene’s general election last Tuesday. He was defeated by fellow City Councilor George S. Hansel for the post.