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More reasonable people will be given chance to address jail issues

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,

Coercion is more often than not counter productive in interpersonal relationships. The executive branch of Belknap County government has not used an open approach to planning for a new or improved county jail, but rather has tried to coerce the county delegation into being a rubber stamp for their pet project which is familiarly known as the Ricci Greene proposal. The project was tagged by its creators with a price tag of $42.6 million. When that figure was met with an icy response, the chair of the jail planning committee was then quoted as saying that he did not know the origin of that figure.

On May 1, this same head of the jail planning committee, Commissioner Philpot, stated that the delegation was not prepared to have a rational discussion of the issue. The New Hampshire architect, who previously had been unwilling to contemplate a reduction in size of the colossus which was Ricci Greene, then found it expedient to reduce the size about 11 percent. For reasons unknown, this individual then speculated that the cost of the new jail could be reduced by almost three times what a strict arithmetic extension would indicate. One is met with such dissemblance at every turn, whether it be the county sheriff positing that the disproportionate jail sentences we experience are due to judges being familiar with the inadequacies of our jail or the jail superintendent falsely claiming that the comprehensive assessment of the county criminal justice which was called for in the Bennett report has been done when, in fact, it has not been done.

For those unfamiliar with Bennett, his first comment on the path forward was that a study of county resources be done and his second, whose importance was underscored, was that the justice system be studied in its entirety. Of course, Mr. Bennett may have been wrong about the growth path of Belknap County's population but nowhere is there an acknowledgement of that.

The next ploy was for the county delegation to be presented with an all-or-nothing approach to appropriating funds for a temporary building which the county would not own, a new HVAC system which was described as reusable in some undetermined measure, and a schematic design for the Ricci Greene proposal. Rep. Frank Tilton pointed out that state law forbids the use of bonding for temporary improvements, which comment was not answered with specificity. It was further pointed out that the county would be bonding for 10 years a rental property which would be vacated in three years.

The Laconia City Council has stated that this project should not be built and The Laconia Daily Sun has printed a masterful article suggesting that Belknap County does not have an assessment base which could accommodate such a large project.

Nothing deters the commissioners, their executive branch and the planning committee from their intent to saddle the county with this project. Subsequent to the June 16 meeting, the planning committee has met and stated that they will stay "loyal" to Ricci Greene.

Does this defiance of community opinion and the votes of the towns' elected representatives make sense if the commissioners do not feel that they have a hole card? A rather well known Belknap defense attorney made his way to the June 16 meeting and suggested that if the delegation did not vote favorably on the bond request then the county should be sued. Never mind that the delegation is prepared to act on a more reasonable proposal, the message delivered was easy to understand: Give us what we want or suffer the consequences when a suit is filed on behalf of our jail population.

Of course, bullies are craven when confronted with resolve and I would suggest that such a suit will be adjudicated over a prolonged period of time, a period of time in which more reasonable people will be given the opportunity to address all of the county's problems including the travesty which is the county jail.

Rep. Richard B. Burchell

Belknap County, District 5