LACONIA — With the mayor and four of six city councilors running without opposition, the most competitive race on the municipal election ballot is the four- cornered contest between Mike Gagnon, Jonathan Muller, Tom Tarr and incumbent Doug Whittum for two seats on the Police Commission.
Whittum, the lone incumbent in the field, was first elected to the commission in 2007. He developed a close relationship and deep respect for the Police Department , especially the school resources officers, during his long career as a teacher, guidance counselor and principal in the Laconia school system. Whittum also spent 40 years as a seasonal officer with Marine Patrol. As a commissioner he has been a strong supporter of the community policing and "Problem Oriented Policing" (POP) initiatives pursued by the department.
A native of Gilford, Gagnon graduated from Keene State College in 1998 then spent eight years in the real estate business in Scottsdale, Arizona before returning to the Lakes Region to join his father Jerry at JG Realty in 2007. He said that his interest in the Police Commission was triggered at a event sponsored by Fusion, a group fostering civic engagement and leadership, when Warren Clement, the retiring commissioner he seeks to succeed, suggested he consider the Police Commission.
Gagnon said that he began attending meetings of the commission and enrolled in the Citizen's Police Academy to become acquainted with the work of the department. He said he was impressed by the relationship between the officers and the public as reflected by the consistently high marks on the report cards citizens complete after engaging with the police. Likewise, Gagnon said he is impressed by the approach the department has taken to the scourge of addiction by concentrating on treatment. "They are trying something," he remarked, "and it's an amazing approach."
Gagnon stressed that "my goal is just to be involved and lend my voice when it is needed." He is the only candidate not to have put up signs, but conceded "there may be a sign coming soon to your lawn," Readily acknowledging that "all the candidates are well qualified," he said "one may have an advantage of greater experience."
That would be Tom Tarr, who last year retired after a career of 40 years in the criminal justice system, beginning as a probation and parole officer in 1974, becoming director of the probation and parole division at the New Hampshire Department of Corrections in 1985, and concluding as the chief federal probation officer in New Hampshire. He said that following his retirement he was wondering how to put his experience to use at the local level when he saw the advertisement for a vacancy on the Police Commission.
Tarr said that his experience matched the major responsibilities of the Police Commission such as overseeing budgets, contracts and the general operation of a law enforcement agency. In particular, in light of the challenge of substance abuse he highlighted his role in introducing the first federal drug court and treatment program — LASER (Law Abiding Sober Employed Rehabilitated), which he said posted a 70 percent success rate.
"I really just want to serve my city," said Jonathan Muller, who grew up on Dartmouth Street, graduated from New Hampton School and Plymouth State University, and for the past 17 years has owned and operated a successful landscaping business. He said that he is troubled by the prevalence of addiction, mental health issues and homelessness on the streets of the city and doubts that the police have sufficient personnel to address the problems.
Muller said he has ridden with officers on all three shifts and discovered there are times when only a sergeant and one or two officers are patrolling the entire city."There are not enough officers on the street," he offered. He suggested the commission should "think outside the box," in particular by considering the "Volunteers in Police Service" (VIPS) program. He explained that the programs provide one or two volunteers, trained to guidelines and standards set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, to each shift who conduct welfare checks and traffic control. He described policing as "a tough job" and said he was running for the commission to see "what we can do to help them, It's also a great way to give back to the community."