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.

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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.

Town clerk quits, cites bad work environment

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The town’s long-time town clerk, Judy Newman-Rogers, has resigned her position, charging that town leaders have allowed a “hostile, unpleasant and dysfunctional environment” to develop at town hall.

In a 337-word letter addressed to the board of selectmen and dated Oct. 1, the departing clerk is critical of both the three-member elected board and Jim Bingham, the town administrator, for not addressing ongoing problems.

“Unfortunately, requests for resolution to situations made known to the town administrator and the board of selectmen have gone unaddressed,” it reads. “Previous administrative traits of transparency, trust, honesty, lawfulness, communication, integrity, accountability and equal application of policy and procedure have been supplanted with deflection, delay, denial, disrespect, dismissals, discrimination and blatant division of personnel.”

‘The selectmen are not doing anything about it. And it’s effecting employees and the townspeople.’

 – Judy Newman-Rogers, Warner (NH) Town Clerk

In phone and text communications on Sunday, Newman-Rogers said the selectmen have failed to properly manage Bingham, which has resulted in problems with town employees, communications and procedural issues.

“It’s financial – that would cover quite a bit of it, the finances of the town,” she said. “But it’s also that the board of selectmen have to make sure that the laws are followed and our privacy is kept (protected). There’s security for different things. Employee dissatisfaction, low morale and the biases… The favoritism is huge.

“It’s been a long time now that the select board has been ignoring what’s going on in the (town) office with employee situations, and things that are going on that shouldn’t be,” Newman-Rogers said. “The selectmen are not doing anything about it. And it’s effecting employees and the townspeople.”

The departing clerk specifically pointed the finger at Bingham, saying that “the town administrator is the problem.”

(Jim Bingham, the town administrator, did not respond to requests for an interview during the weekend.)

“I don’t want to go to a selectmen’s meeting and hear that the selectmen are surprised by an issue I’m dealing with,” Newman-Rogers said. “I don’t want the town administrator to say, we’ll bring this to the selectmen’s meeting and then it doesn’t happen.

“We need transparency, and when information is public it should be provided without question, and when it’s supposed to be,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any roadblocks and stops put up when people request information. I think that’s not good for our town.

“I think communications with the public is very important,” the departing clerk said. “That needs to be improved. And when people are trying to improve that, they shouldn’t be given a hard time about it.”

On Saturday, Kimberly Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the board of selectmen, and Clyde Carson, another board member, said that they’ve been aware of tensions among some town employees for awhile now but they were caught off-guard when Newman-Rogers read her resignation letter aloud during the public input session of last week’s meeting. “We did not see this coming,” the chairman said. “I even said that at the meeting: ‘I didn’t see that coming.’”

Brown Edelmann said she doesn’t know what specific situations the town clerk was referencing in her letter because the information was “not specific enough.”

“The board still has to sort this out,” said Carson. “I think the board is going to hear more about that (i.e., the situations).”

Neither of the selectmen would comment on any situations that Newman-Rogers referenced in her letter, saying that they are legally restrained from discussing personnel issues in public.

Newman-Rogers concluded her letter with regrets about any problems that her departure may cause the town.

“It has been an honor and privilege to have served the residents of Warner as deputy town clerk and then as town clerk for the past 24 years,” she wrote. “I am truly grateful for the trust, support and confidence they have had in me.”

Brown Edelmann said the selectmen were grateful for the departing clerk’s years of service to Warner. “I certainly hope that she finds a situation that makes her feel less stressed, and whatever else she’s looking for,” she added.

Newman-Rogers will officially leave her position at the end of this week on Friday, Oct. 13; town hall is closed Fridays so her actual last day on the job is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12.

This story originally ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.

Sutton fire department addition delayed

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Plans to build an $800,000 addition to the town’s North Road fire station have been put on hold, according to Cory Cochran, chief of the fire department.

Late last week, Cochran said that the board of selectmen has directed the fire department building committee to reach out to an architectural engineering firm to rework the group’s original specifications.

“We put them out for bids (from construction companies) in the spring, and ended up with three proposals,” the chief explained. “We noticed that our bid specs didn’t work, they weren’t detailed enough.”

Proposed construction costs ranged from $1.4-million to $700,000. “We rejected them because of inconsistencies, so it’s back to the drawing table,” the chief said.

During the summer, the selectmen decided to get an architectural-engineering firm involved, Cochran reported. The chief later held a building site visit with Kelly Gale of KLG Architecture of Webster to discuss reworking the architectural/engineering plans.

 Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department, 

 

The status of the project was scheduled to be addressed at the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, September 10. Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department,

One town official said it was likely that the addition project, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters at this year’s annual town meeting in March, will likely reappear on the 2019 town meeting warrant.

In public meetings leading up to this year’s meeting, Chief Cochran noted that the town has been considering an addition since 2006. The original building was erected in 1974 and has had limited improvements since that.

Right now, the building doesn’t comply with National Fire Protection Association Standards and doesn’t meet the department’s needs, Cochrane said.

The proposed 30-by-45 square-foot single story addition, which would be constructed on the Route 114 side of the building, would provide needed office space, room for gear storage, an equipment storage bay, an updated kitchen and updated restrooms, the chief explained last week.

“There will be a larger meeting-training room because we’ve outgrown the meeting room that we have now,” he said. “And the bathroom will be with showers, so they’re be more locker-room style.”

The new space will also provide sufficient room for the emergency operations center, according to the chief.

Cochrane said he hopes to have a clearer idea about how to move forward with the addition project some time this month.

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

Local town administrators looking for ways to cut costs, expand services

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Two years ago the town administrators from Bradford, Sutton and Warner got together to see if they could save their towns some money when the time came around to make their annual winter fuel purchases.

“Instead of Bradford buying 5,000 gallons, Sutton buying something like its 5,000 gallons and Warner buying its 10,000 or whatever, we did a joint fuel bid,” recalled Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator. “And we got a great rate.”

The administrative trio was so encouraged by the results they’re now meeting on a regular basis, exploring ways their towns can work together for their mutual benefit.

“For the past year the towns of Sutton, Bradford and Warner have had conversations about consolidating certain services, either for expanding services or because it would be more cost effective,” explained Elly Phillips, Sutton’s town administrator.

“I think there’s a lot of cool opportunities to save money here and there, backing each other up, helping each other out,” agreed Hambleton.

For instance the regular joint administrators’ meeting has addressed the idea of buying or renting equipment together in the future, according to Jim Bingham, Warner’s administrator.

“Take roadside mowing. Each town needs to do it for a few weeks in the summer and we always rent a tractor,” he said. “But when you look at what the towns are spending, we could own one in six years for what we’re paying for a single year’s rental.”

If issues related to storage, maintenance costs, insurance etc. could be agreed to, the towns might consider making a joint tractor-mower purchase, he suggested.

The towns could even look at shared professional services, the administrators noted.

“I’m talking about things like code enforcement, building inspections, planning or even town administrators – which I hate to say,” Phillips said. “The times are changing, and these little towns need professionals.”

The novel approach could attract more qualified professionals than what a single small community can afford to pay, according to Bingham.

To some extent the shared services idea has already been done.

When Sutton voters elected a new town clerk in March, Bradford helped out by allowing residents in their neighboring community to register their vehicles in Bradford for a few weeks, while the new employee received her necessary training, Hambleton said.

Of course the town administrators can’t make any cooperative agreements by themselves.

Hambleton, Bingham and Phillips have to win the approval and support of their respective elected three-member select boards before any deals can move forward.

But the trio says the possible savings and service improvements are worth the time and effort to investigate.

“It’s just a matter of changing the way we think,” Hambleton said. “It’s just appropriate to have our towns working together.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

 

At New Hampshire town meetings & polls, residents spring surprises

By Ray Carbone

Despite a snowy week, voters came out to the polls last Tuesday to pick leaders in their local elections. Later, some residents gathered at their annual town meetings to make other important decisions for 2018 and beyond.

NEW LONDON – Residents turned down a plan to buy land where new town buildings could be built in the future, but they had to wait an extra day to find out who won their election for town clerk.

The former proposal, supported by both the board of selectmen and the budget committee, suggested spending up to $500,000 to purchase property where future municipal structures could be constructed; no particular parcel was identified in the warrant article.

The relatively strong showing of Aaron Warkentien to one of two vacant seats on the board of selectman probably surprised some New London residents.

The latter involved incumbent town clerk Linda Nicklos and her challenger, William F. Kidder III. At the polls, the pair tied with 270 votes each, so they had to meet the next day for an official coin toss to decide the winner. Nicklos won, but Kidder has asked for a recount of the ballots, which town officials scheduled for Tuesday (March 22). (The recount affirmed Nicklos’s victor, 274-270.)

In other action, town meeting voters rejected the idea of abandoning their quarterly property tax bills in favor of the more common semi-annual schedule, but they pledged to make all municipal facilities 100-percent dependent on renewable sources for electricity by 2030, and 100-percent dependent for heating and transportation fuel by 2050.

SUNAPEE – The relatively strong showing of Aaron Warkentien to one of two vacant seats on the board of selectman probably surprised some residents. Warkentien’s name was not on the printed ballot, but the write-in candidate came in with 314 votes, close behind incumbent John Augustine’s 325. Joshua Trow came in first with 500 votes.

Sunapee is an SB2 town, so all town meeting action occurred at the polls last Tuesday.

Voters also turned down several spending ideas including ones to buy voting booths, a highway department pick-up truck, and a fast-response utility-forestry truck for the fire department.

The question of whether to allow Keno gambling (lost in Newbury) in a tie vote, 110-110.

Residents made another change in the fire department, voting to have the selectmen appoint three fire wards to oversee its organizational operations.

A nonbinding article that won approval suggests that town workers and taxpayers share in savings realized from a new employee health insurance program. The Concerned Taxpayers of Sunapee, which originally presented the petition article, went to court recently to alter a wording change instituted at the deliberative town meeting last month, but the judge refused the motion.

In school district action, voters okayed a plan that will require future negotiations between with the district’s unions and the school board be held in public.

NEWBURY – For the third time in recent years, voters turned thumbs down on a proposal to build a new public safety building. The $3.6-million plan, which would have constructed a 9,000-square-foot building for the Newbury Fire & Rescue Department on Route 103, lost out in a tight race. Since a bond was required, the article needed support from at least two-thirds of the 253 town meeting voters, which would have been 168, but the final tally was 152-101.

Things were similarly tight in other town elections.

Less than a dozen votes separated the winner of a seat on the board of selectman, Russell Smith, from his opponent Joanne Lord, 113-103, and less than two dozen was the difference in a race for a cemetery trustee post, with Knowlton “None” Reynders besting William Weiler, 113-91.

Even tighter was a question of whether to allow Keno gambling in Newbury. The proposal lost in a tie vote, 110-110.

SUTTON – Unlike similar proposals in other area towns, a plan to build an addition for the town’s fire department won strong approval at last week’s annual town meeting, 104-20.

At the polls, incumbent town clerk/tax collector Linda Ford lost out to longtime resident Carol Merullo, 127-154. Ford had served in the post for most of the last decade.

Voters okayed an annual budget of $$2.2-million but they rejected the idea of establishing some new capital reserve funds and tabled a proposal to buy a new software package for the town clerk/tax collector’s office.

ANDOVER – One of the biggest surprises of this year’s town meeting season may have been the election of write-in candidate Charles Keyser. He won a seat on the board of selectmen with 168 votes, beating out three candidates listed on the ballot.

In other action, voters approved transferring the deed of the East Andover Fire Station to the Andover Fire Department and accepted the title of the town office building. But they rejected the idea of spending $100,000 to buy two lots on Overlook Avenue, as well as putting aside $10,000 for a contingency fund.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, March 22. (The print version contained an error, which is corrected here.)

 

Court rejects request to restore warrant article’s original wording

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – A late decision announced in Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport on Friday will allow voters to consider a warrant article at the voting booth today just as it was changed at the annual deliberative town meeting on Feb. 6.
In the ruling handed down by Judge Brian T. Tucker, the court dismissed town officials’ claims that the Concerned Taxpayers of Sunapee organization didn’t have a legal right to question the language change, but decided that the group’s request to halt voting on the altered measure was inappropriate.

The alteration didn’t change the “textual subject matter” of the article because it kept the focus on costs of a new health insurance plan for town employees, Tucker wrote.

(Selectman John) Augustine argued that taxpayers have to fund an escrow account of approximately $65,000 to cover the cost of employees’ deductible…

The issue is related a recent decision by the board of selectmen to change the health insurance plan from a “Cadillac” program to a high-deductible “site-of-service” plan. Officials said that the program would save the town $70,000 this year but, for the first year only, the town would pay 100-percent of all employees’ premiums.

John Augustine, a board member, joined with others in the community in objecting to the idea. They offered a petition warrant article that suggested that town employees “contribute more than zero percent towards the cost of their monthly health insurance premium.” (Augustine also argued that since taxpayers would have to fund an escrow account of approximately $65,000 to cover the cost of one-half of each employees’ deductible, there would be very little tax savings.)

Then at the deliberative town meeting, the majority of people approved a change in the article’s wording. “Since the town employees this year are being offered a high deductible health insurance plan at a lesser cost to the employee and the taxpayer, shall both share in that savings,” asked the altered article.

The Concerned Taxpayers organization wanted the superior court to overturn the meeting’s decision, and restore the original language because state regulations do not allow an article to have its “textual subject matter” changed.

“The original petition warrant article was focused on ‘cost,’ whereas the amended article is focused on ‘savings,” Augustine explained.

But in his ruling handed down last week, Judge Tucker wrote that while the new language does not alter the “textual subject matter” because it keeps the focus on the town’s health insurance plan and its “less(er) cost to employees.”

Later on Friday, Augustine said that the Concerned Taxpayer group has no plans to appeal the judge’s decision because its intent was “never to win a court case,” but rather to make residents aware of the new insurance program pricing plan, which it thought unfairly burdened property owners.

Interestingly, the warrant article, however it was written, has no bearing on this year’s insurance program. The selectmen’s decision to switch to a site-of-service plan has already been instituted for 2018, so the question is intended to be merely advisory as the board moves forward considering insurance plan in the future.

Voters will have final say on the article at the polls on Election Day.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on March 13, 2018.

Warner budget committee member wants new purchase planning group for town

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – When voters gather for this year’s annual town meeting next month, they’ll be asked to consider a proposal to establish a new Procurement Committee that would evaluate all proposed town expenditures greater than $25,000.

The board of selectmen has decided not to recommend the idea to voters, but Alfred Hanson, who started the petition warrant article, said the new three-member group could assist the selectmen.

‘I’d just like to see some other minds get involved a little bit (in a way) that won’t cost us any money and maybe open up horizons for us in a whole different manner.’

-Alfred Hanson

 

“I’ve lived in this town all my life and I’ve seen the changes, especially in the last five or six years,” he explained. “And this is one of the things I think the town could really gain from… I’ve put a year’s worth of thought into this.”

The new committee would independently review all major proposed town costs looking at bids and any projected financial impact to the town, the petition state. The group would then submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the selectmen at a public meeting.

Hanson, who has served on the budget committee for the last nine years, said the goal of the committee would be to provide the town leaders with additional data.

“I think you need as much information as you can possibly get,” he said. “I know that’s the way I run my business. The better you feel about what is taking place, or what’s going to take place, the better off you are. So, what better way than this (idea)?”

Hanson said he’s not interesting in starting a group that will start “micromanaging” town leaders. “I’m not saying the town is making the wrong decisions here and there,” he explained. “I think the board of selectmen and the others, they do their job. I’d just like to see some other minds get involved a little bit (in a way) that won’t cost us any money and maybe open up horizons for us in a whole different manner.

“What I don’t want to see with the government is it growing,” he noted. “We start seeing departments hiring an assistant this or that… Maybe we don’t have to pay for that information. Maybe we can find citizens to study this stuff.”

“I believe that there are some savings being missed,” he added.

At a recent meeting, the selectmen voted unanimously not to recommend Hanson’s article to voters. Jim Bingham, the town administrator, said the three-member board had concerns about how a procurement committee would work and whether it would add a step in the town’s processes that would slow things down, he said.

“And (the members) said that they already have several avenues for public input,” Bingham noted. “For instance, before the board itself (at its regular meetings) or, if there’s any proposed withdrawal from a highway or road construction capital reserve fund, that needs to be preceded by a public input meeting.”

The town meeting will take place is scheduled to take palce on Saturday, March 17, beginning at 9 a.m., in the town hall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. 

 

Charges dropped in alleged Sunapee election fraud incident

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – The state’s efforts to prosecute two men who were allegedly involved in an election fraud scheme in 2016 has fallen short.

Last month, the NH attorney general’s office decided not to move forward with two charges of illegally altering an email in order to influence the outcome of an election, and one charge of forgery against Adam Gaw of Manchester.

The decision followed an October ruling handed down by Newport district judge Gregory E. Michael that dismissed the same charges against a Sunapee resident, Joseph Furlong.

The woman told police that she’d written an email that referenced some people associated with the Sunapee school board… Later, she discovered that someone had altered her message…

The two men were charged with the misdemeanor crimes after Sunapee police investigated a report from a resident that was made in March 2016. The woman told David Cahill, Sunapee’s police chief, that she’d written an email that referenced some people associated with the town’s school board, and sent it to several town acquaintances. Later, she discovered that someone had altered her message with the apparent aim of tilting the election in favor of Heather Furlong, Joseph’s wife, and sent it out to a larger group of citizens just days before a school board election. (Heather Furlong won a seat on the school board but resigned one year later after her husband was arrested.)

Cahill said he immediately notified the attorney general of a possible election fraud crime. With the AG’s support, he then began an investigation that led him to Joseph Furlong.

Furlong denied playing a role in the doctored message. Instead, he pointed to Gaw, an independent building contractor who may have been working on the Furlong house the night of the alleged crime.

Cahill initially doubted Gaw’s existence, saying he thought Furlong had invented a “straw man” to escape responsibility for his actions. Gaw sent an email to the Sunapee police claiming full responsibility for the altered email.

It was not until the early 2017 that the attorney general’s office filed formal charges against Furlong and Gaw. Shortly thereafter, it withdrew the original charges and filed new ones that it believed were more likely to lead to convictions.

But when Furlong’s case came to trial earlier this fall, his lawyer asked Judge Michael to dismiss the charges because the newer ones were filed too late – just days after the legal statute of limitations had run out.

The judge agreed and, when the AG’s office appealed his decision, he affirmed it, saying that authorities had “failed to properly investigate the facts.”

When Gaw’s case came to court on November 14, James Vera of the attorney general’s office decided not to move forward with the Manchester man’s prosecution.

Last week, Vera said that Gaw’s lawyer “would have made the same argument” that caused Judge Michael to drop the charges against Furlong.

Vera refused to blame anyone on the prosecution’s team for the outcome.

“I’m not going to say that anyone dropped the ball,” he said. “There was a decision that was made and it was incorrect.”

Vera said the state is not planning any further action related to the incident.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on November 28, 2017.

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