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Disorderly conduct charge dropped against Alton man speaking his mind before board but selectmen move to tighten restrictions on public speech ever further

ALTON — The state has dropped one of two charges against a man who was arrested by police after speaking his mind during the public comment section of the February 3 meeting of the Selectboard.

A charge of disorderly conduct lodged against Jeffrey T. Clay that alleges he purposely caused a breach of the peace by disrupting the meeting by continuing to speak after being informed "repetitively" by the board that public input was closed was dropped on March 23.

A second charge against him for knowingly refusing to comply with a lawful order given by Police Chief Ryan Heath to move from the Alton Town Hall is still pending and is scheduled for trial on April 6.

In interviews Clay has given since his arrest, he said his biggest complaint about the Alton board is that there is a lack of transparency in conducting the town's business.

Clay said he understands the need for non-public sessions under limited and delineated rules established by the state Legislature but thinks the Alton board is entering non-public sessions unlawfully. He also said it is having public workshops at odd hours of the day so people can't attend them.

He said he learned they held a non-public session to discuss him, but he was not told nor was he given the option to have that meeting held in public, as is his right under RSA 91-A, the state Right-to-Know law.

Since Clay became a regular at the Alton selectmen meeting, the board has made changes to the way it handles public input.

On January 14, the board unanimously enacted a revised public participation policy that indicated members of the public are "privileged" to be able to address the board. The rules say the board will not hear complaints about individuals or employees of the town and that all speakers are to conduct themselves in a civil manner.

"Obscene, libelous, defamatory or violent statements will be considered out of order and will not be tolerated," reads a part of the new rules.

Those rules also say a person who has been warned about violating the above and continues to do so may be removed from the meeting.

During the public input that immediately followed the rule change, Clay expressed his displeasure with the lack of adherence to the Right-to-know law and told the board that having a police officer at every meeting was "intimidating" to people who have opinions to voice.

Clay was arrested at the very next meeting, in part for saying that some board members should resign and for demanding an independent study on the way the board conducts its business.

Then selectman David Hussey said Clay's statements were "deflamatory" and he left the room, returned with Heath, and Clay was arrested and removed.

Since Clay's arrest, a new board has been elected and it has again changed the way public comment will be conducted.

According to former Chair R. Loring Carr, the board voted four-to-one on March 16 to limit public comment to those addressing items that are on the agenda for that meeting.

When asked how a resident could address a item that is important to them but not on the agenda, Carr said the concerned person has only to speak to the town administrator or his secretary beforehand and he or she will be placed on the agenda.

He said the intent of the newest rule is to try and reach some kind of balance and keep some level of board/citizen decorum.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 March 2015 12:21

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Retiring PSU President Sara Jayne Steen delivers final State of University address

PLYMOUTH — Asserting that "Plymouth State University is vibrant and energetically moving forward," President Sara Jayne Steen delivered a favorable report in her annual State of the University address on Wednesday. Citing continued success in experiential learning opportunities, an impressive recruitment and marketing effort, the culmination of a major fundraising campaign and campus capital improvements, Steen's message highlighted the university's achievements before faculty, staff, alumni and friends.

Steen announced earlier this year that she will be stepping away from the presidency in June, after leading the university since 2006. She thanked the faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends for all that has been accomplished in her tenure.

"I am honored to have served you for nine years as president," Steen said. "I have no doubt about the positive value of public higher education. I have seen what this campus and its people are made of, and I will always love PSU."

"I am grateful to the campus for your support and participation," Steen said at the top of her address. "You contribute your ideas, expertise and talent to keep the university both excellent in quality and financially solid. Because of your work, the state of the university is strong."

Steen emphasized PSU's goal of preparing students for productive, meaningful careers through experiential learning, a principle Plymouth State has embraced with continued success.

"PSU's culture of service with engagement is key to the experiential learning environment," Steen said. "We at PSU are fortunate to have rich, productive partnerships with our host communities of Plymouth and Holderness, and throughout the Lakes Region and North Country and across New Hampshire. They invite partners to engage with us in educating students at the same time that those students serve area schools, non-profits, businesses, and agencies."

In the past year, the institution has expanded its recruitment and marketing efforts. Steen noted those efforts have been successful.

"PSU has received an all-time high number of inquiries and applications for next fall," Steen said. "PSU is positioning itself for the future."

That future, stated Steen, includes the ALLWell North academic and athletic complex, slated to open this fall. The facility will be the largest academic building on campus, providing new space for classes and research, and for programs in health and human performance, community wellness, athletics and recreation.

The university recently reopened the venerable Samuel Read Hall Building after a $4-million renovation. Hall Building is now home to the departments of counselor education and school psychology and of nursing. The Center for the Environment and Center for Rural Partnerships are also located in the facility. The modernization allows PSU to expand capacity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs, including health disciplines, in Governor Hassan's proclaimed year of STEM.

Steen added that the university's greatest challenges moving forward are reinforcing its financial footing and ongoing student recruitment.

"We must continue to work on enrollment, on diversifying revenues, on continuing to manage resources prudently and effectively and on reallocating as necessary to pay for strategic investments."

This year also marks the conclusion of Steen's "Imagine a Way" fundraising campaign, which she launched in 2007 with a goal of raising $20 million in support. Her motivation, she said, was her own educational opportunity and success.

"Like many of you, I am a product of public higher education, as is my husband, and we live a better life than we once could have imagined," she said. "We hope that for our students. The future does begin with imagination, as we, in my mother's words, imagine a way."

 

Last Updated on Friday, 27 March 2015 01:18

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Huot Center will add 2nd level law enforcement course; full-time teacher needed

LACONIA — The Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School hopes to expand its Law Enforcement curriculum and is seeking to hire a full-time teacher for the next school year.

According to Huot Director Dave Warrander, there are currently two blocks of Law Enforcement 1 — both of which are taught primarily to juniors with the occasional senior.

He said in the four years since former Police Chief Mike Moyer started the class, it has grown from one block to two and there is now enough student interest to add a third block — a Level 2 class.

However, because of restriction in the N.H. Public Employee Retirement System, Moyer cannot be the full-time teacher, a source of disappointment to Warrander.

"He wants to stay involved," said Warrander.

Moyer, who spoke briefly about the expansion of the program said he is excited it has become so popular. He said he will stay involved but confirmed he is not a candidate for the full-time teaching job.

"I'll still be around as a volunteer," he said, noting he would assist the new full-time teacher with his or her transition during the first year.

The project was Moyer's first since his retirement from full-time police work in 2011. He said former Huot Director Scott Davis approached him with the idea and he, Davis and police Captain Matt Canfield made the program come together.

While the program provides an age-appropriate education in the nuts and bolts of law enforcement, it also touches on the societal, economic, and legal aspects of crime, criminal behavior and crime prevention.

Warrander said the second level will be a more intense version of the evel-one classes and is designed for those who want to pursue a career in law enforcement, social services, the law, corrections or the military.

The Huot program enjoys dual enrollment with Central Maine Community College and articulation with New England College— meaning the class won't go on a person's college transcripts unless he or she attends NEC.
"Moving forward, we've been looking to add more schools to the list," Warrander said.

Since the program is only four years old, Warrander doesn't have hard evidence about career choices made by students who took it because not enough time has lapsed.

He said most police officers earn a minimum of an Associates degree before entering law enforcement and by today's standards a Bachelor's degree is preferable for most police departments' new hires.

As an anecdote, he said he knows a few students who are with fire and emergency services and some who have joined the military.

Warrander said the new teacher will be required to have a background in law enforcement and will also have to attend or must have attended teacher's certification programs that focus on curriculum development, adolescent psychology, education and other teacher skills.

He said the right candidate will be chosen by a board of advisers that consists of members of the Laconia Police Department, Fire Chief Ken Erickson, Sheriff Craig Wiggin, Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Daniel Ward and members of other sending school police departments.

"We have a nice cross-section of people who serve on our board," he said.

Warrander said he is optimistic about the growth of the law enforcement program and said the school is looking to expand it and make it more comprehensive.

The total line item request in the 2015-2016 budget for the single full-time teacher is $71,000 and includes benefits.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 March 2015 01:09

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Lawmakers assert jurisdiction over county grant appropriation process

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention has formed a grant subcommittee to establish procedures to ensure that all state and federal grants to the county are part of the county budget process and must be approved by the convention before any funds are expended.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) named Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), convention vice chairman and chairman of the convention's Executive Committee, to the committee along with Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), Rep. Peter Varney (R-Alton) and Rep. Valerie Fraser (R-New Hampton).
Tilton raised concern over the grant policy over a year ago when as chairman of the Executive Committee he pointed out that a $297,3000 grant which was received in the summer of 2013 by the Belknap County Sheriff's Department wasn't included in the 2013 budget summary nor referenced in the proposed 2014 budget.
He said at that time that the funds need to be appropriated by the county in order for it to be able to track all of its expenditures.
At a subsequent convention meeting, Curt Magee of Sanbornton reminded the convention of a statute (RSA 24:21-a) that provides that "all moneys to be appropriated by the county must be stipulated in the budget on a 'gross' basis, showing revenues from all sources, including grants, gifts, bequests and bond issues, as offsetting revenues to appropriations affected."
The convention then proceeded to adopt a policy which required that all state and federal grant requests go through the budget process and gain convention approval.
At this Monday's convention meeting a copy of the county commissioners' procedures for federal and state grant application and acceptance was circulated. The policy was adopted in March of 2009 by then county commissioners Christopher Boothby, Ed Philpot and Richard Long and makes no reference to any need for county convention approval of grants.
Rep. Sylvia said that he was under the impression that the policy which the convention adopted last year was in effect but Tilton said there was nothing in writing which had been communicated to commissioners, whom he maintained had ignored the convention's vote.
Vadney said that he thinks it is important that the convention evaluate all grants for overall impact and whether or not they will require funding from the county in the future as well as any restrictions they may carry.
''We want to make sure it's from a reputable source, not ill-gotten money.'' said Vadney, who last year said that the convention needs to assume control of the grant process in order to protect taxpayers. "It puts the delegation as an oversight group of the county so that we don't accept money from nefarious sources.''' He maintained that the county's acceptance of federal stimulus funds had created a level of spending which the county couldn't sustain
Tilton asked that a written policy proposal be presented to the convention for its consideration.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 March 2015 12:25

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