A Small New Hampshire Town Discovers Its Black History

This story first appeared in Winter 2018 edition of “Around Concord (NH)” magazine, which is published by the Concord Monitor newspaper company. All photos are courtesy of Warner Historical Society; relevant captions are below.

By Ray Carbone

Across the story of America, the history of black people remains a darkened corner. We’ve failed other people – the Irish faced harsh discrimination, Native Americans are still routinely marginalized, and Japanese-Americans serving in World War II saw their families interned – but the long, sorry tale of America’s sin against its black citizens is remarkable for both its length and its scope.

Equally as is remarkable are the incredible dignity displayed and successes achieved by many slaves and their descendants.

‘Warner! Can you imagine,’ Boggis asks rhetorically. ‘When you think of this out-of-the-way place! But there was a community of colored people there. And it was not just one family, they were integrated into the community. They were part of the town.’

New Englanders can rightly claim a significant role in ending the outright slavery of black people because the abolitionist movement flourished here. But there are still shadows here. But it’s an imperfect history. For decades, most New Hampshire residents believed that there was no slavery here and that racism was never a problem simply because we lived in one of the whitest states in the country. That fallacy ended in the 1990s, when seacoast residents uncovered the little-known history of black slaves and servants who worked in and around Portsmouth during the colonial era. Today, the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail allows people to follow this rugged trek.

But JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the nonprofit organization that created the Portsmouth trail, says there’s still more that needs to be told. She’s working with historians around the state to fill in the largely hidden history of black people who lived in rural New Hampshire towns during the early days of the nation – places like Andover, Hancock, Milford, and nearby Warner.

“Warner! Can you imagine,” Boggis asks rhetorically. “When you think of this out-of-the-way place! But there was a community of colored people there. And it was not just one family, they were integrated into the community. They were part of the town.”

“The fact is that there was a community from at least 1810,” confirms Rebecca Courser, executive director of the Warner Historical Society. “But it was not until 1850 that they were listed in the census.” Before that, individuals in white families were listed by age under the head of the household, but black families were simply numbered as freed colored persons, sometimes in the margins.

Warner could become part of statewide trail. (See I. below)

 

The Warner Trail

Courser is excited about the possibility of having spots in Warner eventually listed on the new Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. That project is currently being developed in conjunction with JerriAnne and the Portsmouth-based group.

“You can drive by the William Haskell House,” Courser says referring to the former home of a black man renowned as a talented basket maker. “In Waterloo [another section of town], there’s the house where Clarence Steward lived, who was the [African-American] secretary for Nehemiah Ordway.” Ordway was a prominent politician who served as Sergeant of Arms at the U.S. House of Representative, and a governor of the Dakota Territories.

“I would run across this material – vital records and deeds, things like that – and I was curious. Who were these people? What were their lives like?

“Then there’s the Waterloo School House, the Roby School House, and the Village and Burnt Hill schools,” Rebecca continues, noting that black and white children were integrated in those institutions.

A Warner leg of the statewide trail could also commemorate the black community that lived on what’s now called Poverty Plain Road – but was once known by the racial slur N—r Plain. Or there could be a marker near the wetlands alongside old Prince Hastings’s home, nicknamed Chocolate Swamp.

Courser was serving as Warner’s assistant town clerk several years ago when she began seeing things in old town records that piqued her interest about former black residents. “I would run across this material – vital records and deeds, things like that – and I was curious,” she recalls. “Who were these people? What were their lives like?”

As others have found, resolving those questions is hard.

Most black Americans had little or no education, so there are few personal journals or other papers that have been preserved. One significant exception is Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, which was published in 1859.

In addition, what is available doesn’t provide a full picture of how most residents saw their black neighbors. “What did the silent majority of people in town think of them,” Rebecca asks. “We don’t hear about it. We don’t know.”

What exists is not heartening. In town histories written in the later 1800s, white residents frequently recalled their black neighbors as stereotypically simple-minded and naturally subservient.

America’s first black celebrity lives in the region. (See II. below)

“The stories that we see written up are usually not flattering,” Rebecca says. “Many of them are derogatory. ‘ They were stealing things,’ or ‘They’re alcoholic.’”

What Courser and other historians around the state are discovering is that most black residents were good, law-abiding citizens who paid their taxes and supported their communities. “There was at least some Afro-American men who, after the Revolutionary War, were amassing land here and there,” JerriAnne explains. “And they would donate land to the town for a school or for a library.

TonyJones1896

 

“They were doing the same thing that we think of as something the founding white fathers were doing,” she says.

A Bit of Warner’s Diverse History

Anthony Clark was a multifaceted man who made a significant impact on his community. He came to town in the early 1800s, and may have among the black men awarded their freedom for fighting in the Revolutionary War. He enlisted when he was 19-years-old and is mentioned on official papers as being “on command at the lines,” i.e., engaged in active duty.

Anthony worked as a laborer in Warner, which was a common job for freed black men, but he was also an accomplished musician and craftsman.

Anthony would start playing his fiddle to draw a crowd and his daughters would dance a jig. Soon men of all ages would ‘pitch-a-penny’ for the chance to dance with them.

In 1804, Anthony married Lucinda “Lucy” Moor of Canterbury in a Warner church. Over the years, the couple raised 10 children and, for many years, the family was prominent at social gatherings around the region.

According to one report, the Clarks would typically start out by pitching a tent at outdoor events, like musters and town celebrations. Anthony would start playing his fiddle to draw a crowd and his daughters – Sual Hall and Lydia Clark – would dance a jig. Soon men of all ages would ‘pitch-a-penny’ for the chance to dance with them. In between, the Clarks sold their homemade gingerbread.

A neighbor, known as Prince Martin, may have sometimes joined the music. “Another Negro, born in Africa, for many years lived in the Warner woods under the name of Prince Martin,” one white resident recalled in 1823. “He could sing many songs and play on the ‘bones,’ and always had a crowd of listeners round him.” The ‘bones’ were percussion instruments literally made from bones and popular in some African cultures.

MaryMoodyPlains.jpg

Between big events, Anthony traveled around the area, playing his fiddle and calling dances at both pubic and private gatherings. The trips made him a part of a network of people who kept black residents in different communities connected to one another. It was a role he shared with itinerant laborers and drovers like Caesar Lewis, who lived in nearby Sutton. The drovers would move animals – including turkeys – over land to Brighton, Massachusetts, where the animals would be slaughtered for food. “[Caesar] was a man of good abilities, good manners and unblemished integrity,” one resident recalled.

Anthony was an esteemed dance master who taught dance and its social etiquettes to both adults and children. He would sometimes rent space in a local tavern and spend the week giving lessons as the tavern owner enjoyed a boost in sales. At other times, Anthony would take the lead role at community events. “Tony Clark and his fiddle [acted] as inspector-general,” one resident recalled, referring to festivities following one muster.

Anthony was by all accounts an intelligent, gracious man who made a long-lasting impression on Warner. “[He] probably did more towards instructing the young people in the arts and graces of politeness and good manners than any other man of his day and generation,” reads one report.

An  indentured servant authored one of first novels published by a black woman in North America. (See III. below)

When Anthony died in 1856, reportedly at more than one hundred years of age, he was buried with military honors. He and wife Lucy are in the Pine Grove Cemetery, still the only black people in Warner with a headstone marking their graves.

It wasn’t long, however, before the racial prejudice of the later 19th century began infringing on Anthony’s story. An 1895 publication, A Sketch of Warner, claimed, “Anthony may have never fought [in the Revolutionary War], but carried water and distributed cartridges at Bunker Hill, and in the capacity as waiter he served [General George] Washington… He used to fiddle for the officers, and after peace was restored, he drifted to Warner where he was ready with his fiddle for 50 years.”

Within a generation, Anthony’s record had been downgraded from active service to the country to work as a server and a waiter. Even his move to Warner was described as drifting, rather than a planned move to establish a home for his family.

Anthony’s story included one more twist. His second-youngest son, Timothy Clark, changed his last name to Lyman. Timothy believed that Dr. Henry Lyman, a local white resident, had impregnated his mother.

“It’s interesting,” Rebecca says. “Was it consensual, not consensual? Was it in payment for some medical stuff? Who knows? Was she working for the household, doing housekeeping types and laundry, and taken advantage of? Maybe it was love. Was there a romantic relationship? Who knows?”

Another one of Anthony and Lucy Clark’s children, their daughter Caroline Clark, grew up to marry a black man named William Haskell. That couple’s only son, James Haskell, eventually served in the famous 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment during the Civil War. the regiment is commemorated in a famous bronze relief sculpture on the Boston Common, created by noted 19th century New Hampshire artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The family lived in a Main Street house that still stands, where William set up his workshop.

Store-GeorgeMoody

Haskell became known throughout the region for his high-quality products. Baskets were an essential household item at the time, since people used them to carry important foodstuffs and other goods as they walked from place to place. His Main Street location was also perfect for the crowds of people who flocked to the town for the annual fall fair.

In business directories published between 1885 and 1895, Haskell’s basket-making business is the only known black-owned business listed in the area. “He was written up in the newspaper for making 400 baskets in eight months,” Courser reports. “Based on his inscriptions on the handles and the baskets we have in our collection – and the newspaper story – we can see that those baskets were utilized for years. They were considered sturdy.’

James Haskell followed the path of his grandfather Anthony Clark, serving with his cousin John Haskell for the Union in the Civil War. Their names are among the five black men on Warner’s Soldiers Monument in the village.

Leaving, and some passing

Around 1810 in nearby Henniker, another black man surnamed Haskell became known for marrying a white woman. . “Because,” he claimed, “all the colored women feel themselves to be too good for me.” It’s not clear whether he was related to the Warner Haskells.

On the other side of Warner, in Sutton, another former slave married a white woman, and eventually became prominent in his community. Lot Little was owned by a tanner named Thomas Little on the seacoast. Renaming slaves with unusual or humorous names based on their white families’ surname was common. A Revolutionary War veteran, Lot followed his ex-owner’s family to Sutton where he managed properties for the family and, later, for himself.

‘[Anthony Clark] probably did more towards instructing the young people in the arts and graces of politeness and good manners than any other man of his day and generation,’ reads one report.

Town records show that Lot Little paid taxes on property and voted. Unlike other black people, his family was always listed among the white residents. Dr. Lynn Clark,, a Contoocook historian and independent researcher, speculates that he may have won an extra measure of respect due to his military service. Or, it may have been because he’d shown himself to be a responsible property owner, or, simply because he was light skinned.

Despite that, a 1890 town history recalled Lot Little in this atypical description: “[He] clung affectingly to the family in which he had been kindly reared [i.e., his former owners], and the old feeling of dependence, the natural outgrowth of the peculiar relation of master and slave, made him ready to attach himself to [their] fortunes.”

Lot Little’s decedents stayed in Sutton. Eventually all traces of their mixed race identity were lost, Clark says. “Some of them are still here but they’re not perceived as black anymore.”

It was part of a pattern of either passing for white or moving away that began in the mid-1800s when a particularly virulent wave of racism swept across the country. Especially after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1854, requiring everyone to assist in the capture and return of escaped slaves, many black residents of New Hampshire left for Canada or the West.

For those who stayed – or who’s stories remained, like Anthony Clark – many were simple “white-washed” to minimize their impact on the community.

“Most people don’t know about this,” Clark says. “The remark we hear most often is, ‘I had no idea.’”

With the help of organizations like the Historical Society and the Black Heritage Trail, we all have the opportunity to learn more about this aspect of our area’s history and celebrate the contributions of African Americans made to our society.

(More below.)

Photos captions: (1) William and Fred Sanville, the young black children in front, attended the School Street School in Warner circa 1903-04. Their parents were Wilfred and Annie Moody Sanville but they also lived for a period of time with their grandmother, Mary Moody,. William would later serve in World War I.  (2) Tony Jones was chosen to be the page boy of the Simonds Free High School Class of 1896.  His mother, a widow named Annie Jones, had moved the family north from South Carolina to work in the household of a local white family, Henry and Sarah Davis of Warner. Marion Davis, the couple’s daughter, was a graduate of the high school, which is why Tony was chosen to participate in their graduation activities. (3) Mary Moody resided on the Plains road in Warner and was head of a multi-generational household. This photograph was taken in the 1800s, when Mary was in her mid-fifties. She was paid to nurse other residents in the area and  often received monies from the town pauper fund for pay for food and clothing for her grandchildren. (4) George Moody, the son of Mary Moody, worked as a laborer. He was married to Cora Robinson when their young child Walter died in 1899 at age one. All photos are courtesy of Warner (NU) Historical Society.

I. Warner could be on statewide black history trail

In 1995, Valerie Cunningham founded the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail to commemorate the history of black people who lived in and around state’s only port city in early America. The trail developed a self-guided tour that uses public signage, as well as educational programs and community events that celebrate this little-known story. Now the all-volunteer nonprofit organization that manages the Seacoast trail is spreading out to other parts of the state with the goal of developing a statewide resource called the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.

JerriAnne Boggis, the executive director of the organization, said that research is already underway and that local historians are working with educators to create a number of resources, including a self-guided tour that would be available online, “so people can do it with their cell phones, they can find these sites,” she explains.

The project worked with two towns – Hancock and Milford – in 2018 and hopes to involve about 13 more in the next three years. JerriAnne says that, eventually, markers and other commemorative instruments can be used at sites around the state.

 

potterhstmrkr

II. America’s first black celebrity lived in Andover

Most black people who lived in America in the 19th century were slaves, captured or bought as animals in Africa or the Caribbean. That was the background of Richard Potter: he was born in 1783 in Hopkinton, Mass., the son of a black mother who was “owned” by his father, a white colonial official.

Richard grew up in the Boston area, but he had an endearing charm and quick mind that marked him as different. When he was 16 years old, he traveled to Europe with a family that employed him. It was there, among the artists and entertainers, that Richard began learning the creative skills that allowed him to become one of the first popular entertainers in America.

His skills included legerdemain (i.e., card and coin tricks), acrobatics, but it was but, principally ventriloquism that led to his notoriety. That trick was unknown in the New World at the time.

Richard learned to amaze people with his ability to make it appear that voices were coming from handbags and animals, but his charismatic, courtly character helped make audiences comfortable. He had “a constant smile seeming to illuminate his face,” said one acquaintance. To his tricky, Richard added songs, humorous speeches and dancing on eggs.

When he later married Sally Harrys in 1808, Richard occasionally added her sweet voice to his music as the “evening’s brush to sweep away care,” as he advertised his presentations.

As his reputation and repertoire grew, Richard took the act on the road, appearing all over New England and New York. Around 1820, he toured all of pre-Civil War America, giving shows in southern slave states as well as New York, Philadelphia and parts of Canada. It was likely the first time any entertainer took such a wide-ranging circuit.

In 1813, Potter purchased land to establish a farm in Andover, about 25 miles north-west of Concord. He told Nathan Hale, the famous patriot and newspaper editor:

The surest anchor, I thought, was to have some determinate object always in view, and none appeared to me more decisively powerful, than an independence that would secure me from poverty and public charity, when advanced age or youthful competitors drove me from this temporary enjoyment. Having a good wife, well acquainted with country business, I concluded that instead of carrying her about with me as an assistant, it would be better to have a home, which would be to her a congenial occupation, and to me a polar star, towards which I would always set my course. –

Richard had a gentle, courteous manner but practiced a severe personal discipline. He told Hale that he “avoided gambling, drinking and idleness,” and became a “strong temperance man.” It is ironic, then, that Sally developed into an alcoholic whose irresponsible behavior hampered the family for years.

In John A. Hodgson’s recent biography Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity, the author speculates about how much of the entertainer’s life was impacted by his skin color. In his early performing days, Potter was content , and sometimes even encouraged, people to speculate about whether he was a Hindu or from some other foreign culture. But most of his audiences apparently knew and accepted that he was, to use the terms of the day, colored.

“His manners were impeccable, his behavior decorous and polite, his bearing gracious and almost courtly. But his complexion was dark, as was his wife’s,” one friend recalled. The author did not uncover many specific incidents where the entertainer was hampered by racism, but it appeared to regularly add a tone of unpleasantness to his life. And it may have been part of the reason for an antagonism that later developed between him and his Andover neighbors.

Richards died in 1835 and his wife passed away soon afterwards. They were buried on their farm but their graves were later moved to a place near the local train station. The station – and the village – are now known as “Potter Place.” A NH Historic Marker commemorates the famous performer’s life.

 

harrietwilson

 

III. Harriet E. Wilson: Indentured Servant and Author

One of the main problems for historians researching the lives of early American black citizens in New Hampshire is the paucity of reliable source information. Since most black people – in fact, most Americans – had little or no formal education, there are few diaries, journals or other personal papers available. A major exception is Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, a autobiographical novel written by Harriet “Hattie” E. Wilson.

Wilson was born in Milford in 1825 to a black father and a white mother, and was still a young child when her impoverished mother abandoned her to a local family. Hattie lived the family as an indentured servant until she was a teenager.

Our Nig is considered a fictionalized version of Wilson’s life under the oppressive yoke of the family. Originally published in 1859, it’s one of the first novels published by a black woman in North America.

Despite its sympathetic view of the lives of black people, the book was unpopular even among people like abolitionists in the North. Some historians say that was because it showed that freed black people in the northern states sometimes faced the same harsh treatment as many slaves in the southern slaves.

The memorial monument to novelist Harriet Wilson is in Milford, where she spent most of her early life. The statute was commissioned by the Harriet Wilson Project, a local organization that’s working to have Wilson’s historical book, “Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black,” and other aspects of New Hampshire’s black history incorporated into the state’s history.

Around Concord” magazine is available at Gibson’s Bookstore (S. Main St., Concord), the Concord Food Co-op (S. Main St., Concord), Books-A-Million in the Fort Eddy Plaza in Concord) and at the Cracker Barrel Store in Hopkinton. Subscriptions are available at 603/369-3212.

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Warner’s town administrator swings back

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Last week Jim Bingham, the town administrator who has faced some tough public criticism lately, leveled some pointed remarks of his own at John Leavitt, a member of the town’s budget committee.

At the board of selectmen’s meeting in town hall, Bingham said that Leavitt had made “comments that attacked my professional and personal integrity, in terms of my work and my work with board of selectmen” at a Dec. 27 budget committee meeting.

“You think about this, because this ticked me off,” Bingham told Leavitt at the selectmen’s meeting. “This was essentially a personal attack.”

‘You have to trust that we’re doing the best we can, that there’s nothing illegal, immoral and unethical going on.’

Kimberly Brown Edelmann, selectboard chair 

Bingham referred to a story on the front page of the Jan. 15 edition of the InterTown Record, which related Levitt’s remarks from the Dec. 27 budget group meeting. At the time, Leavitt said that there was “plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation” of data in a report on a town employee wage/compensation study that Bingham had discussed with the selectmen. “All the (relevant) information was going to the administrator (and) he was only telling you (selectmen) what he felt you should know, because he filters out what he thinks you don’t need to know,” Bingham read, quoting Leavitt’s remarks.

“If that’s not an attack or an accusation, I don’t know that is,” the administrator said. It’s unfounded, as far as I know… If there was any real evidence, I’d assume (you) would have brought that forward.”

“It sounds like you jumped to a conclusion that it was something (inappropriate) that Jim did,” Kimberly Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the selectmen’s board, told Leavitt. “You have to trust that we’re doing the best we can, that there’s nothing illegal, immoral and unethical going on.”

Leavitt replied that he never accused Bingham of acting improperly. “I made no allegations,” he said. “All I said was that (the study’s evaluation) was not always transparent… I said, there’s plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation (in the data). I did not suggest that was done.”

Bingham said that if the Leavitt had concerns about the administrator’s work, he should have gone directly to the selectmen. “The budget committee meeting was not the place to put that out (in public),” Bingham said. “Since I’m an employee, that becomes a personal issue… When you bring it up in a public forum, that’s inflammatory and damaging.”

After the Dec. 27 meeting, Bingham notified that budget committee that he would no longer attend its meetings because they were “too unruly,” and that “the history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience… demoralizing and extremely unproductive.” (Bingham did however come to a recent committee meeting.)

Bingham began his comments by asking Leavitt if he’d thought about his remarks and wanted to offer an apology.

But Leavitt refused, saying that he’d heard from other people who attended the Dec. 27 meeting and found it informative. Bingham and others in town leadership sometimes interpret vigorous questioning by the budget committee and others as “being contentious,” he said.

“Mr. Bingham called it a kangaroo court,” Leavitt said about the Dec. 27 meeting. “I call it democracy.”

Alfred Hanson, another budget committee member, suggested that some of the recent tensions between the committee and the administration were caused by the selectmen. He said that the board had recently approved some recent «wage increases, based on the wage/compensation study, without the usual level of input from the budget group and others.

Brown Edelmann said that she was mostly responsible for that and that the action has become a “learning opportunity for me, as the chairman… Maybe it wasn’t the smoothest move.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton New Hampshire, on Tuesday, January 22, 2019.

Innkeeper’s lawsuit may be resolved in 2019

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – The legal dispute between the owner of the Bradford Village Inn on Greenhouse Lane, and the town and two of its officials, could be headed towards a trial later this year.

In recent months, filing in the U.S. District Court in Concord has lead to some legal resolutions between the two sides but some issues are still unresolved.

Judge Andrea K. Johnstone, who is presiding over the case, has asked the two parties to consider mediation and to notify the court if they intend to do so before April 1. If that does not happen, a tentative date for beginning a trial is set for Aug. 20.

It was almost one year ago when Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic property, sued the Town of Bradford, as well as Mark Goldberg, the chief of the fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, for allegedly conspiring against his efforts to re-open the 121-year-old lodging facility in 2014. Torro purchased the property, which Gordon had previously operated as a bed-and-breakfast, at an auction that year.

According to the suit, Goldberg unfairly tried to enforce costly safety upgrades to the building before issuing an operating permit to Torro, and Goldberg convinced the board of selectmen to renege on promised tax abatement. The town is liable since the pair acted in the roles as town officials, Torro argues. He asked for $2 million in monetary damages, as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damage. Goldberg, Gordon and the town have all separately refuted the claims, and asked the court to dismiss them, but so far Judge Johnstone has not responded.

The lawyers representing Goldberg, Gordon and the town have all argued that Torro hasn’t provided sufficient proof that the town employees were acting in conspiracy to harm him.

 

In his original court filing, Torro made five separate legal arguments. He claimed his business was treated unfairly, that he was denied the normal “due process” of opening a business, and that both Goldberg and Gordon acted in violation of the state’s Right-To-Know statute. In addition, the owner charged that the situation made him a victim of “intentional infliction of emotion distress.”

But in late November, Torro’s attorney indicated that he would not object to the court dismissing both the “due process” claim and one of the Right-To-Know charges.

The lawyers representing Goldberg, Gordon and the town have all argued that Torro hasn’t provided sufficient proof that the town employees were acting in conspiracy to harm him.

Gordon’s attorney noted that, whatever she may have said to the board of selectmen, she did not have the authority to deny a tax abatement.

Goldberg’s lawyer stated that the fire chief actually recused himself from inn’s permitting process and passed his normal licensing responsibilities on to the state fire marshal’s office.

The town’s legal representative claims that its employees are protected from legal actions related to their duties. Barring that, any improper behavior that Goldberg and Gordon may have committed was personal and did not benefit the town.

All three argue that Torro cannot show that, even if all his charges are true, that they rise to the legal definition of “Intentional infliction of extreme emotional distress.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

Warner town administrator will address charge of manipulation

By Ray Carbone

WARNER –At the board of selectmen’s meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, Jan. 15, Jim Bingham, the town administrator, is planning to discuss recent public comments aimed at him by members of the budget committee and other residents.

Kimberley Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the selectmen’s board, said that Bingham requested the opportunity to publicly respond to the remarks, especially those made by John Leavitt, a member of the budget committee, at the Dec. 27 committee meeting. The criticisms, which have been aimed at both Bingham’s integrity and abilities, should be aired in a public forum, she said.

he slings and arrows, it takes a toll,” Brown Edelmann said of Bingham. “It needs to be done.”

‘It was brutal.’

– Kimberly Brown Edelmann, selectman, regarding criticism recently aimed Jim Bingham, the town administrator

 

The chairman does not believe the critiques are valid.

In recent weeks, Bingham has been at the center of disapproving comments aimed at the selectmen regarding its adoption of a new wage/compensation plan for town workers, particularly raises for some employees instituted before the end of last year.

In addition, when long-time town clerk, Judy Newman-Rogers, resigned her position in October, she charged that a “hostile, unpleasant and dysfunctional environment” had developed at town hall, and that the selectmen weren’t managing Bingham appropriately.

According to the unapproved minutes the Dec. 27 budget committee meeting, Leavitt said that Bingham was not always transparent when communicating important data about the new wage proposal with either the selectmen or the public.

“All the (relevant) information was going to the administrator (and) he was only telling you what he felt you should know, because he filters out what he thinks you don’t need to know,” Leavitt told John Dabuliewicz, the selectmen’s representative to the budget group. Leavitt later said that there was “plenty of room in here for interpretation and manipulation” of information that Bingham manages for the three-person board of selectmen.

At the next budget committee meeting on Jan. 3, Mike Cutting, the chairman, read an email message from Bingham. In it, the administrator said he wouldn’t attend any more of the group’s meetings until the conversational tone changed. “The history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience of attending budget committee meetings demoralizing and extremely unproductive,” the administrator wrote.

Afterwards, Brown Edelmann said Bingham doesn’t need to go to meetings where he’s treated disrespectfully. “It was brutal,” she recalled, referring to some of the comments aimed at Bingham.

Late last week, Leavitt defended his remarks. “I didn’t make any allegations of wrongdoing, just procedures,” he said. “Nothing illegal.”

Leavitt also called Bingham’s email response “ridiculous,” and said that attending budget committee meetings should be considered to be part of his job.

The agenda for this week’s meeting of the selectmen includes this item: Discuss allegations made by John Leavitt at the 12/27 Budget Committee meeting.

Brown Edelmann said the focus would primarily be on Leavitt’s claim of manipulation of data by Bingham.

Bingham was unavailable for comment.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

Warner mulling costs of employee pay increases and fire safety measures

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town leaders are looking at two significant financial items as they prepare for the annual town meeting coming up in March.

According to Jim Bingham, town administrator, the board of selectman will be presenting voters with a long-delayed increases in town employee salaries, and the cost of installing new fire suppression systems in some municipal buildings.

The fire suppression system is the most expensive item. Bingham said recently that he was still researching how much it will cost to complete the safety requirements for the town hall, the public works garage and the transfer station.

Related: Warner wage study ignites war of words

The three-member board is particularly concerned about the public works garage, especially after fires at similar facilities in Henniker and Hopkinton caused major damage in those nearby towns. In at least one of those instances, virtually all the town’s valuable equipment stored in the structure was destroyed, Bingham noted.

In addition, because the public works facility and the transfer stations are located outside the village, they are not on the local municipal water system. “So we have to construct a holding tank, a cistern, there” the administrator said. “That could cost well over $200,000, maybe close to $1 million.”

The selectmen are reviewing those costs, as well as approximately $60,000 that would pay for fire suppression in the town hall, Bingham said.

The salary increases  would total about $50,000 but Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

The pending salary increases are related to a wage and compensation study that an outside consultant completed for the board last year. The members have been reviewing and considering the consultant’s recommendations for some months now, Bingham said, and has decided to move forward with several actions, including changing to a new system of employee steps and grades that are linked to years of service to the town as well as job-related education and training.

“This is not the first time that the town of Warner has done this,” Bingham said. “This is actually the third time we’ve had salary adjustments. The first was in the early 2000s, then we did another in 2009. And, now in 2018. So it seems like every seven to eight years we have to look at our salary structure and our job descriptions, and update them to keep them within the (local) market range.”

The town employs 28 full and part-time employees so when the current compensation package is compared to the newly approved one, the overall salary increases for the year would total about $50,000. But Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Wage study spurs war of words in Warner

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A long-delayed wage study commissioned by the board of selectmen is at the center of a dispute between the board and its administrator, Jim Bingham, on one side and several residents, including some members of the budget committee, on the other.

In recent weeks, the disagreement had led to several developments. Mike Cutting, chairman of the budget group, has discussed the idea of submitting a warrant article at the annual town meeting that would restrict the selectmen from taking certain wage-related actions in the future; Bingham, the town administrator, has told the budget committee that he will no longer attend its meetings; and John Dabuliewicz, the selectman’s representative to the budget group, has said that’s he’s not seeking reelection, partly as a result of criticism he’s received related to his board’s work on the wage study.

Related: Town mulls town raises, fire safety measures

“Are we (selectmen) perfect and have we always been open,” Dabuliewicz asked rhetorically, according to the unapproved minutes of the Dec. 27 budget meeting. “No, we haven’t… But we’ve done the best we can and we are trying to do the best we can, and I resent the fact that people only talk about you when they have criticism… And that’s one of the big reasons I’m not running again.”

At the most recent budget committee meeting in town hall last Thursday, Jan. 3, Cutting read aloud an email message from Bingham sent earlier in the day.

“After much thought, reading the minutes and listening to the recording of the (Dec. 27) meeting, I feel that a reassessment of how these meetings are conducted needs to be made immediately,” Bingham wrote. “The culture of the proceedings must change towards one of civility, respect and orderly discussion. As I have no assurance that the hostile tone of the last meeting will not continue (at the Jan. 3 meeting), I have decided not to attend tonight’s meeting.

Police chief Billy Chandler said he was told that no (wage) decisions would be made until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

“The dynamics of the budget committee meetings are too unruly and the history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience of attending budget committee meetings demoralizing and extremely unproductive,” he added. “This is a problem that has been quietly yet resentfully endured for a number of years, but for me, no longer.”

In many New Hampshire towns, the budget committee plays an important role. The members serve as a final financial “check-point” in the annual budget crafting process, reviewing the selectmen’s proposed budget. But because budget committee members are usually not as ingrained into the town’s day-to-day workings, their meetings tend to be less structured and more casual than those of other town boards.

The selectmen and Bingham say that the Warner group’s meetings have sometimes crossed the line into disrespectful behavior.

The selectmen originally commissioned the wage/compensation study from Thorton & Associates, a human resource consulting firm based in Maine, in 2017. Its goals were to clarify town job descriptions and compensations packages, as well as to evaluate the wage structures as compared to other local communities.

The selectmen began evaluating the consultant’s report in early 2018, according to Dabuliewicz’s comments at the Dec. 27 meeting, and the three-member board is still working through the final details of job descriptions. Because the project took longer than anticipated, the selectmen recently approved pay raises for several town employees based on the new plan, which took effect in December.

At the Dec. 27 budget meeting, some committee members and several other residents criticized the December raises, saying that selectmen shouldn’t have okayed the pay increases.

“The precedent (in Warner) is that anything that is going to be a long-term major expenditure goes before the town (at the annual meeting), and this did not go before the town,” said Martha Bodnarik, a member of the committee, according to the minutes. “This is an every-year increase because you have put in in (the budget annually).”

At last week’s meeting, Cutting suggested that a citizens’ warrant article could be drafted for consideration at the March town meeting that would require all future salary increases be included in the annual operating budget, and “not be paid until (the budget) is adopted by the town meeting.”

At the Dec. 27 meeting, some residents also criticized the wage study’s methodology, which they claimed didn’t provide enough input from department heads, placed too much emphasis on comparisons to other towns, and was needlessly motivated by fears about employee retention.

John Leavitt and Alfred Hanson were particularly harsh, asserting that the process of evaluating and implementing the new wage plan wasn’t sufficiently open to the public.

Bill Chandler, the town’s police chief, admitted that he was “a little disappointed” in how the process worked. According to the minutes, Chandler said he’d was told that no decisions would be made on his department’s wages until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

Leavitt said that he and others have requested sometimes information from Bingham’s office about the selectmen’s work on the wage package but haven’t received much response. “There are many situations where no data is supplied from the town,” he said.

The comment seemed to put the finger at Bingham, who was frequently the target of the criticism about the study, according to Kimberley Brown, chairman of the selectmen.

Late last week, Brown said that the meeting minutes on the town website do not accurately convey the unkind tone of some remarks aimed at the town administrator.

“It was pretty horrible, the way he was treated,” she said. “It was brutal.”

Brown added that, regardless of what’s been said, she has confidence in Bingham’s integrity and abilities.

She also said she understands his decision to not attend future budget committee meetings, if he’s treated disrespectfully. “I don’t see why he should go,” she concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, N.H., on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Small print leading to better cell phone service for small NH town

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – When about 50 residents gathered at the elementary school to discuss the town’s future this summer, there was thing that concerned people who were interested in developing the town’s tax base.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford, unless we have a cell tower,” said one person, as others nodded in agreement.

Walter Royal, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, knows about the problem.

“There’s no signal in town,” he said last week. “There’s a couple of places where you can get a signal and you can make phone calls, but most people find that you can’t. You may be able to text something but not make a call.”

As a result, many residents still have a landline even though that service may not work for emergency services during a local power outage.

Now town leaders are cautiously optimistic that a long-delayed solution could be near.

Several weeks ago, Walter Royal (Bradford’s building inspector/code enforcement officer) was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

Royal said he’s recently spoken with a representative of Verizon, the telecommunications company, and was told that the company hopes to provide improved cell service to the community before the end of the winter.

A new cell antennae is slated to be attached to a tower that’s located on a hill behind the local office of the local school bus company, Student Transportation of America (Valley Fire Equipment), on Route 114 near the intersection with Route 103, said Karen Hambleton, the town’s administrator.

The cell tower was originally erected five years ago by the Structure Consulting Group, a real estate advisory firm based in Arlington, Mass. that services the telecommunications industry. At the time the consulting firm told town leaders that it was working under a contract with Verizon, and that cell service typically follows within a few months of construction.

“But there’s been no activity,” explained Hambleton last week. Several public safety organizations are already using the tower, she added, which is “one of the reasons we’re cranky.”

In the spring, Verizon submitted its antennae application, but the town heard nothing more from the company in months.

Several weeks ago, Hambleton tried to connect with the consulting firm. When she was unsuccessful, she asked Royal to look into the issue.

Royal said that the original contact number associated with the project was no longer in service, so he reached out to someone at a Verizon facility in Fryburg, Maine.

When that proved unprofitable, he went back and looked at the application and found a contact name and phone number – but in tiny print.

“The plans were shrunk down, so they’d fit on an 8½ ”-by-11” page. So, I had to blow it up, I had to enlarge it,” he said. “And, when I did, there it was!”

Several weeks ago, Royal was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

“He said he’d expedite it to have the base equipment put in this winter and the antennae up (soon afterwards.),” Royal related. “He said he’d told his higher-ups at Verizon that I was really (angry) at them. I think he was getting a little upset, probably because he thought the project was much further along.

“But no one could see his name on the plans.,” the town employee laughed. “Now I know his name… And I know where he lives!”

The above photograph of the Student Transportation of America/Valley Fire Equipment building on Route 114 in Bradford, was taken b y and is the property of Carbone Productions, LLC. This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 18. 

Wilmot explosion, house fire leads to a jail term, possible trial in January

PHOTO: Adam Dalton, left, and Shane Fourtier, both of Wilmot, were charged for their alleged role in an explosion that lead to a fire that destroyed a local home.

Dalton: Wilmot house fire/explosion trial pushed back

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – The trial of Adam Dalton, a 26-year-old local man charged with instigating a burglary that resulted in an explosion and fire in a home on Route 4A in 2017, is being delayed.

Dalton was scheduled to go on trial on Tuesday, Dec. 18, but according to papers filed with the Merrimack Country Superior Court recently, the court action has been pushed back. Court officials did not have a specific date the trial will begin last week, but Judge Richard B. McNamara has scheduled a dispositional hearing related to Dalton’s case for that same day, Dec. 18. (The dispositional hearing, which could indicate whether the case is headed towards a trial or some kind of plea agreement, has been rescheduled for Jan. 23.)

Fortier agreed to a plea agreement, admitting to a felony charge of burglary, for 12 months in the county jail with three months suspended for good behavior.

Dalton and Shane Fortier, 30, another Wilmot resident, were charged with illegally entering the summer cottage at 543 Route 4A on the morning of May 1 with plans to steal its copper piping. Authorities say that as part of the theft, the local pair cut the home’s propane lines. When Christopher Beaucher, the son of the home’s owner, stopped by the house, Dalton and Fortier fled without talking telling him about the cut lines. When Beaucher turned on a basement light switch, the spark ignited the propane, producing the explosion and fire. Beaucher suffered serious second-degree burns.

Dalton was indicated by a grand jury on seven charges: burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, second-degree assault, witness tampering, falsifying physical evidence, solicitation to falsify physical evidence, and practicing mechanical services without a required license.

On Oct. 17, Fortier agreed to a plea agreement, admitting to a felony charge of burglary, for 12 months in the county jail with three months suspended for good behavior. Fortier is also required to pay $4,576 to Beaucher.

It was during that same month (October) that Carley M. Ahern, an assistant attorney with the county prosecutor’s office in Concord, asked the superior court to push back the start of Dalton’s trial to allow staff members to participate in special training scheduled for the same days. As a result, the final pretrial conference for Oct. 26 was delayed, as well the Nov. 13 scheduled meeting to selection of the jury.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published weekly in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 11, 2018.

Shane Fourtier: Wilmot explosion, house fire leads to one-year jail term

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – One of the two men charged with instigating a burglary that resulted in an explosion and fire in a home on Route 4A in 2017 has pled guilty to charges related to the incident.

On Oct. 17, Shane Fortier, 30, of Wilmot entered into a plea agreement with the Merrimack County Attorney’s office, admitting to a felony charge of burglary. His sentence will be 12 months in the county jail, with three months suspended for good behavior and two years’ probation. Fortier will also be ordered to pay $4,576 to Christopher Beaucher, the son of the owner of the residence, who suffered second-degree burns in the conflagration.

The official sentencing was scheduled for early November but Judge John C. Kissinger approved a request to move Fortier’s court appearance back to early December. “(Fortier) was not transported to court today,” according to a document filed in the county courthouse on Nov. 2. “(The) plea (agreement) if fully negotiated and the parties (Fortier and the county attorney) agree to continue the plea and sentencing until a later date.”

Fortier has also pled guilty to two other charges. He admitted to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit burglary for illegally entering the Route 4A residence in order to steal its copper pipes on May 1, 201; he will be sentenced to 1-2 years in prison, but the sentence will be suspended.

When Beaucher turned on a basement light switch, the spark ignited the propane gas causing the explosion and fire. He suffered serious burns…

In a separate case, Fortier admitted to illegally possessing a powerful psychedelic drug called psilocybin; he’s agreed to a 12-month sentence in the county jail and a fine of $434 but both the fine and the incarnation will be suspended.

Fortier and Adam J. Dalton, 26, another Wilmot resident, were charged with illegally entering the summer cottage at 543 Route 4A on the morning of May 1, 2017 with plans to steal its copper piping.

As part of the theft, the two cut the home’s propane lines, but when Christopher Beaucher stopped by the house, he found Dalton and Fortier there. After a short altercation, the pair left without telling Beaucher about the cut lines.

When Beaucher turned on a basement light switch, the spark ignited the propane gas causing the explosion and fire. Beaucher suffered serious burns and was transported to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

Firefighters from New London, Sutton, Springfield, Andover and Danbury assisted the Wilmot Fire Department but the cottage was eventually declared a total loss.

In December 2017, J. William Degnan, the state fire marshal, joined Sean Brunel, Wilmot’s fire chief and David Zuger, the town’s police chief, in announcing the arrests of Fortier and Dalton. (The trio also credited the New London, Danbury and Bradford police departments for help with their investigation.)

While Fortier has already begun serving his sentence, Dalton is free on $10,000 cash bail. He’s been indicted for burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, second-degree assault, witness tampering, falsifying physical evidence, solicitation to falsify physical evidence, and practicing mechanical services without a required license.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

 

Ex-Wilmot employee looks to discrimination claim

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – One of the four employees who recently resigned from the town’s employ said that she planned to file a complaint with the NH Commission on Human Rights Commission over alleged health-related discrimination.

In her resignation letter submitted to the board of selectmen dated Aug. 22, Nicole (Nikki) Arsenault, who served as an administrative assistant and land/property use assistant, wrote that she was in the process of submitting a discrimination complaint with the state agency. She said it was related to how she felt she was treated by Nancy Bates, the town administrator, after missing time due to an illness.

‘There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office…’

Nicole Arsenault, former town employee

“I’ve missed several days of work over the past month,” the letter reads. “I have become aware that I am being treated differently due to the fact that Ms. Bates is ‘angry’ with me when I miss work due to illness.”

In a note attached to the letter, Arsenault recorded discussing the issue in an April meeting with Bates. At that time, the assistant wrote, Bates admitted to being angry about the missed hours, adding that it was “not right, but that’s how she (Bates) felt.”

Arsenault’s letter stated that she was resigning because she’d recently approached the town administrator again about the perceived problem, but Bates denied ever admitted that she was angry.

“It was my mistake to not speak up sooner for myself and for those around me, to demand that inappropriate behavior be stopped,” Arsenault wrote to the three-member board of selectmen.

“There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office by the town administrator and it is unacceptable,” she added.

At the September 5 selectmen’s meeting, Rhonda Gauthier, the long-time town clerk/tax collector, and her assistant, Kathy LaVallee, announced that they were resigning their positions effective Dec. 31. In her resignation letter to the board, Gauthier wrote that Bates “fired or bullied all employees.”

But Nick Brodich, chairman of the selectmen, has said that although the board was aware of tensions between Gauthier and Bates, it didn’t feel that they were severe enough to take action.

In a response letter to Gauthier, the selectmen criticized her brief appearance at the Sept. 5 meeting as lacking “substance.” It also said that the charges directed at both Bates and the board (for allegedly ignoring ongoing problems) were “serious and hurtful,” and that, by refusing to meet with the board and Bates, Gauthier’s actions were “as disrespectful as cowardly… (and) completely unbecoming an elected town official.”

Late last week, Gauthier said, “I really want to move on,” adding that “Nancy (Bates) did many little things over a period of time… (but) I resigned because I was tired of seeing it happen to other and nothing being said or done about it. I did not want to be part of that environment any longer.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

 

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