Once a refugee, now a law enforcer

02-18 Seifu Ragassa

 Seifu Ragassa of Gilford prepares for the next step in his career and will be the new chief of the Department of Probation and Parole in Carroll County. (Gail Ober/Laconia Daily Sun)

Seifu Ragassa promoted to chief of Parole and Probation in Carroll County


LACONIA — Belknap county's loss is Carroll County's gain as probation and parole officer Seifu Ragassa readies to take over as chief of the Ossipee office next week.

Ragassa has been a New Hampshire Department of Probation and Parole officer in the Laconia office for seven years. Prior to his joining Probation and Parole, he was a sergeant at the now-closed Lakes Region State Correctional Facility.

"I never thought I would be here right now," he said Tuesday while sitting at his desk for his final days in the Laconia office. "And in law enforcement."

Ragassa is an Ethiopian refugee who was a freelance journalist in the late 1990s who fled to Kenya after has name was listed by the Ethiopian government as someone they wanted to kill.

He said during his time growing up in Ethiopia, the police were the people who tried to kill him for speaking out against the government, and that's why he never imagined he would work in law enforcement.

During his stay in Kenya, Ragassa was able to stay out of the refugee camps by working with American Embassy personnel who were investigating the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. He still assists U.S. counterintelligence agents when he can.

"It was those Americans who kept me and my younger brother safe," Ragassa said.

When it was time for him to go to Australia as a refugee, he said one of his close American friends who was an FBI agent in Nairobi asked him if he wanted to go to America instead. He did.

Ragassa settled in the Laconia area and began working with community-based organizations and law enforcement to help make the transition for other refugees easier.

His degree counted for only one year in American colleges, so he continued his studies, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in business administration, and two master's degrees in business and criminal justice.
Despite his pending work move to Ossipee, Ragassa said he will continue his work with the Laconia Human Relations Committee, the Lakes Region Leadership Group, Genesis, and the Laconia Refugee Connections Committee.

Ragassa said he is grateful to the law enforcement community in Belknap County, especially its judges, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, the lead attorney for the state Public Defender's Office Jesse Friedman, his supervisor Serene Eastman, and Jacqui Abikoff, who he calls the backbone of the community, of Horizons Counseling Center.

Ragassa, his wife and children live in Gilford.

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Gilmanton to see contested town, school races


GILMANTON — On the town ballot, challenger Don Guarino and incumbent Marshall Bishop are running for a three-year seat on the board of selectmen; while a pair of three-year school board terms drew three candidates, Michelle (Smithers) Heyman, Michael Teunessen and incumbent Frank Weeks, according to the final list of people who filed to run for office.
Deadline to file was Friday, Feb. 3. The ballot election for town and school offices will be held on Tuesday, March 14, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., upstairs at the Gilmanton Academy Building.
For town offices, three people filed to run for two three-year terms on Budget Committee: Deborah Fletcher, incumbent Brian Forst and Grace Sisti. Incumbent John L. Dickey was sole filer for a three-year seat on the cemetery board. Dickey and Robert E. Richards filed for re-election to two, three-year terms as trustees of trust funds. Incumbent Martha Levesque was sole filer for a three-year seat on the library board. Michelle Descoteaux, Bambi Benton and Nancy MacArthur — all appointees to the supervisor of the checklist — filed for three positions on that board of varying terms. Incumbent Debra A. Cornett was sole filer for a three-year term of town clerk/tax collector. Incumbent Glen Waring will face challenger Joseph Haas in a bid for treasurer, after Haas filed to run late Friday, just prior to closing.
School candidate papers filed with the school clerk at the SAU office included the following candidates: Deborah Wheeler, seeking re-election to school treasurer (one-year term); Mark Sisti, seeking re-election to moderator (one-year term); Rachel Frechette Hatch, seeking re-election to school district clerk (one-year term); and Heyman, Teunessen and Weeks vying for two three-year school board terms.

Stopping the slip

City begins using brine to coat streets in advance of snow, ice


LACONIA — Although there was a light snowfall overnight on Monday, city streets were wet, but not icy or slushy when dawn broke Tuesday morning, a sign that the Department of Public Works got a jump on the forecast storm by applying brine to main roads and steep hills the day before.

Wes Anderson, director of Public Works, explained that brine solution is sprayed on dry streets when the air temperature is above 20 degrees, as long as 72 hours in advance of the snowfall. Generally, brine is applied at rates between 30 gallons and 50 gallons per lane mile. When the water evaporates, a thin layer of salt remains, which prevents snow and ice from bonding to the surface of the roadway. This process is called "anti-icing" and uses between a quarter and a fifth as much salt as the alternative, called "de-icing," by which salt is applied to break the bond after snow has frozen to the road.

Anderson said that "anti-icing" is most effective for light snowfalls of not much more than an inch, but by preventing snow and ice from freezing to the road eases the task of clearing streets after a heavy snowfall. As heavier snow began to fall Tuesday afternoon, the department began treating the streets with salt. Anderson said that the salt is more effective mixed with brine. Salt only begins to reduce the freezing temperature of road surface once it has created a brine. Mixing the brine with salt not only accelerates the process of reducing the freezing temperature but also helps to keep the salt on the road after it is applied. Without brine as much as 30 percent of rock salt can find its way to shoulders and ditches.  Applied at the proper concentration the mixture of brine and salt will freeze at 6 degrees below zero.

This winter is the first the Department of Public Works has mixed and applied brine, The city invested $33,799 in a brine-making system and $16,710 to fit one of its five plow truck with a brine sprayer. The brine is mixed by circulating water between two tanks, the upper one filled with salt and the lower one filled with water, to brew a mixture that is 23.3 percent salt and 76.7 percent water. Anderson explained the brine is mixed by Anderson said that apart from using less salt, applying the brine spared the need to plow the streets during the night.

"We save money by reducing overtime and using less salt," he said.

Anderson said that the department has applied brine four times, including before the storm Monday. Three times brine has been applied to main streets and steep hills and once to all city streets . With only one truck equipped with a sprayer, he said it took 16 hours and approximately 1,000 gallons of brine to treat streets throughout the city.

City Manager Scott Myers said that the cost of the program will be reviewed when the season ends, noting that because the timing and intensity of each storm is unique measuring the cost savings in labor, salt and sand and from the use of brine is not a precise science. But, he anticipated that in time more trucks — eventually perhaps the entire fleet — will be equipped to apply brine.