Jeffrey Clay is arrested after sparring with selectmen at board meeting
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
ALTON — Once again, a resident and selectmen butted heads at a meeting, resulting in the arrest of Jeffrey Clay.
When the Board of Selectmen met on Wednesday evening, Clay was removed by police and arrested after allegedly refusing to comply with the chairman's request to confine his remarks to items posted on the agenda and resisting the efforts of police to escort him from the meeting.
Alton Police Chief Ryan Heath said Clay has been charged with two counts of disorderly conduct as well as resisting arrest and released on personal recognizance bail pending his arraignment in May.
The video of the meeting has yet to be posted, but both Clay and Cydney Johnson offered written statements about the incident on Thursday.
According to Clay, he was allotted three minutes to speak during the time designated for public input. He said that when he told the selectmen their actions were "incompetent and reprehensible," Johnson asked him to confine his remarks to items on the agenda and, when he continued, recessed the meeting.
During the recess, Clay said that two police officers approached him and told him he had been asked to leave. Clay told the officers no one had asked him to leave and Johnson confirmed she had not asked him to leave. When the meeting reconvened, Clay continued speaking in the same vein and Johnson warned him again to speak to the agenda. When he did not, she then asked the police to remove him. Clay said he had not exhausted his time and was not given an opportunity to address at least three items on the agenda.
"Holding public officials for their incompetent, illegal and unethical actions," Clay said, "should not result in citizens being arrested, bullied or harassed. I continue to live in fear for my safety."
In her statement Johnson explained that the board's "public participation policy" stipulates that the first of the two public input sessions on the agenda is restricted to items posted on the agenda. Clay was recognized to speak, she said, but did not address any items on the agenda "contrary to the permission he was given and the rules of procedure." She said that she repeatedly asked Clay to confine his remarks to the agenda, "but he ignored the requests, talking over the chairperson and refusing to listen." He was told that "he was disrupting the board's meeting," she said, "and was warned a number of times that if he persisted he would be removed from the meeting."
Johnson said that Clay's "conduct was so disruptive that the board was forced to recess the session," hoping he would "voluntarily address agenda items" when it reconvened. However, she said that when the board reconvened "Mr. Clay continued to ignore the requests of the chair" and was warned that he would be removed if he did not comply with the rules of procedure. When Clay persisted, she said, she asked the police to remove him.
Heath said that when the officer sought to escort Clay from the meeting, he resisted and was placed under arrest. "This is now a criminal investigation," he said.
This is not the first time Clay has been removed from public meetings. Earlier this month the town moderator asked police to remove Clay, who had repeatedly challenged his conduct of the proceedings.
"I've had enough of your sarcasm, sir. You are a public official. If you don't want to serve in an appropriate way, get the hell off the stage," Clay said to town officials.
The moderator replied "Get the hell out," and asked police to escort Clay from the building and fined him $1. Heath said he has not collected the fine.
In 2015, the Board of Selectmen directed police to remove Clay from a meeting after he claimed the board repeatedly violated the Right to Know law, statements the selectmen claimed represented "character assassination. He was removed and charged with disorderly conduct. When the case reached the court, Judge Jim Carroll of the Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division dismissed the charge, ruling that "the silencing is nothing less than censorship of the defendant's criticism given at a time and place designated by the board itself for public input."
Afterwards, Clay filed suit with the U.S. District Court alleging the town violated his right to freedom of speech and was awarded $42,500 when the case was settled.