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Claremont City Councilor in Trouble After Calling Cops

When a citizen filed a “no trespassing ” order against Claremont City Councilor James Contois, the government official did not take it lying down. Instead, he went to his fellow city official, Claremont Police Chief Brent Wilmot, and tried to get it removed.

Contois did not get his way, and now he is facing calls for his removal for attempting to get special treatment from the city.

“I don’t give up my rights as a citizen,” Contois said. “If I had overstepped my boundaries, you bet your life that [the] chief would have called the city manager or the mayor.”

Contois was served with the order last week to stay off the Route 12 property being developed into a Jeep dealership by Christian Gomes. Gomes said he called the police after Contois refused to leave his property.

“He needs to get out of government because he can’t be impartial,” Gomes said. “He’s trying to be an activist while he’s a city councilor. He can’t do both.”

Gomes owns both the Jeep and Ford dealerships in the city. He recently won approval from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to drain and fill a wetlands meadow to move the Jeep dealership to be adjacent to the Ford dealership. Gomes agreed to pay a $146,000 fee to the state for the wetlands and said his plans have been approved by both state and city authorities.

“I’ve done everything that DES has asked,” Gomes said. “We’re breaking ground next week.”

Contois, who also sits on the city’s Conservation Commission, is a vocal opponent of the development. He filed an appeal of the DES approval for the construction. Last week, Contois went to the Route 12 wetlands to get photos for his appeal when he says he was confronted by Gomes.

“(He) was verbally harassing me to get off property and he called police,” Contois said.

Gomes’ version is different, saying the city councilor was on his dealership property being a nuisance before he contacted police.

“(Contois) refused to leave after being asked three times,” Gomes said.

Police told Contois to leave, even though Contois claims he was legally allowed to be at the property based on his reading of city tax maps. Gomes then obtained a no-trespassing order through the department to keep Contois from coming back.

On Monday, Contois called Claremont Police Chief Brent Wilmot to see if the chief could have the order rescinded.

“He told me he was looking to have the order lifted, and I explained that’s not something we did,” Wilmot said.

Police in New Hampshire do not have the legal authority to lift no trespassing orders, Wilmot explained. That is a decision only the property owner can make. Wilmot told the councilor that police essentially act as letter carriers in cases of such orders. Wilmot told NH Journal he tried to educate the councilor about how no trespassing orders work and suggested Contois find another location from which to take photos.

Wilmot chalked up the call from Contois to a misunderstanding about the procedure and did not view it as an attempt to influence law enforcement.

“I did not feel he was pressuring me to have it lifted,” Wilmot said. “I simply told him I was not going to do that.”

Wilmot did pass along Contois’ concerns, and another officer called Gomes to see if he wanted to have the order lifted, which Gomes declined. Gomes, himself a former New York police officer, said if Contois was not trying to pressure police, his call to Wilmot demonstrated a level of incompetence that is itself disqualifying.

“The man is mentally incompetent,” Gomes said.

Gomes cited Contois’ testimony during the July DES public hearing when the councilor spoke in opposition to the development. During his testimony, Contois said he went to the property and listened to the wildlife present.

“I went to the wet meadow last weekend just to observe,” Contois said according to the recorded testimony. “I heard dozens of redwing blackbirds screaming at me, ‘Get out of here! We have nests here. This is our home.’”

Gomes is threatening to tell businesses to stay out of Claremont unless Contois is removed from the board. He said Contois claims to support businesses coming to the city, and yet spends his time trying to hamper the businesses already operating.

“You can’t be for business and then fight a business,” Gomes said.

Mayor Dale Girard said the council will be investigating the matter, and that the city’s attorney is being consulted. Contois is allowed to stand up for his beliefs and be an activist if he does not represent his actions as those of the council, Girard said.

“It’s a case where Mr. Contois was a private citizen and he wasn’t there representing the council,” Girard said. “I can’t speak to what he does on his personal time.”

Girard agreed that council members should not seek special treatment from police, but he is not sure if that is the case here. Girard said he is still gathering information on what happened.

Gomes said that when he was a police officer, if a local government official asked him to fix a ticket or something similar, that would have been out of line.

“That’s an abuse of power,” Gomes said.

GOP Votes To Ban Private Businesses, Churches From Requiring Employee Vaccines

After months of vocal opposition to government-imposed vaccine mandates on private businesses, Republicans on the state House Education Committee passed one of their own. They approved an amendment banning any “entity” — including private businesses — from requiring COVID-19 vaccines.

“The Education Committee passed HB255 in the name of medical freedom,” said House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry). “Employers are struggling to fill vacancies, gas and food prices are rising, and chaos reigns at the border – the president has shown his ineptitude to lead. He has instead chosen to rule by mandates. That is not the New Hampshire way – and today’s small victory proved that.”

If the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate goes into effect — it’s currently being challenged in court — it will supersede New Hampshire law. House GOP leadership acknowledged Tuesday’s vote was to send a message, not set policy.

“I applaud the members of the Education Committee who took this amendment up today and did the right thing for New Hampshire,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Osborne (R-Auburn). “While it is my hope that the president pays attention to the message we sent him on the heels of his visit today, I will not hold my breath. I look forward to passing this bill at our first opportunity when it comes before the House in January.”

Critics noted the irony of calling a measure that forbids private business owners from setting their own vaccine policy a “medical freedom” bill.

Gov. Chris Sununu opposed the move for the same reason his administration is suing to stop the Biden administration from imposing vaccine mandates.

“As the governor has repeatedly said, he is opposed to the government either prohibiting or mandating vaccines on private businesses,” Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt told the New Hampshire Bulletin when asked about the House Education Committee’s bill. 

Democrats, many of whom also believe government should have the power to decide the vaccine policies of private businesses, dismissed the legislation as a “political stunt.”

“Republican leadership hand-picked the vote, permanently removing from the committee the one Republican member who may oppose this absurd proposal,” said Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton. “This political stunt should be a concern to everyone. The House Speaker’s decision to gerrymander the proceeding is a disgrace.”

Luneau is referring to Pittsfield Republican Jim Allard, who was removed from the committee by Speaker Packard in advance of the vote.

Neither Packard nor Allard responded to requests for comment.

The regulation extends beyond businesses to cover “any political subdivision of the state, corporation, association, club, firm, daycare, public or private school, public or private institution of higher education, partnership, society, nonprofit, joint stock company, or any other entity, including any governmental entity or religious entity.”

Even churches would be banned by government edict from setting vaccine rules for their own clergy and employees.

Supporters of the legislation, including the anti-vaccine organization ReOpenNH, argued government force was required to prevent private businesses from imposing rules on their employees. Business groups pointed out employers impose rules on their employees all the time.

David Juvet with the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association said the state needs to leave those decisions up to private business owners.

“BIA staunchly opposes legislative proposals that would prohibit private employers from mandating vaccination for its workers should they want,” Juvet said. “Requiring vaccination is a safety measure to protect employees and customers and others who may visit the place of business. It’s not unlike other employer requirements from hard hats to hair nets and even dress codes.”

Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said the bill would make it harder for hospitals to keep patients safe.

“It would really hinder their ability to do what they need to do to protect the health and safety of staff and patients,” he said.

Ahnen said vaccines are mandated for a host of illnesses across the healthcare industry. While he doesn’t want to see anyone lose their jobs, hospitals need to be able to take care of the health of the patients and staff. The anti-mandate bill would impede that effort.

The libertarian New Hampshire Liberty Alliance also opposed the legislation. “While we support legislative efforts to mitigate the harm of the federally imposed mandates, this amendment negatively impacts freedom of association by restricting the actions of private entities who wish to require vaccination independent of federal mandates,” it posted on the group’s website in advance of Tuesday’s hearing.

 

OPINION: The BIA Asks “What’s the Score?”

Baseball fans love to argue who has the strongest team, the best pitching, and fiercest lineup. And they make their case by using stats: winning record, ERA, batting average.

At the State House, many of the players say they’ll support legislation that promotes a healthy climate for job creation and a strong New Hampshire economy. Because businesses are the number one payer of state taxes, legislators often say they’ll get behind efforts that help businesses thrive. But when they finally get their turn at the plate, some just leave the bat on their shoulder and watch pitches go by.

BIA recently published its fourteenth annual Legislative Scorecard and fifth annual Victories & Defeats for New Hampshire Businesses. (Access the publication on our website, BIAofNH.com.) The companion pieces track how all Senators and House members voted on legislation of keen interest to the business community and summarizes the outcome of a wide variety of bills in a mix of policy areas.

The Scorecard section is easy to follow. Individual scores are based on roll call votes only (those in which lawmakers’ votes are recorded by the clerk), not up-or-down voice votes in which a Senator’s or Representative’s position is difficult, if not impossible, to identify. Selected legislation (ten bills for the Senate, eleven bills in the House) covers a variety of issue areas.

BIA is a nonpartisan advocate for our members – leading employers in every corner of the state. Business-friendly legislation sometimes falls on the political left and sometimes falls on the political right. Not everyone agrees with BIA on every vote; however, 141 Senators and Representatives – both democrats and republicans – scored high enough to warrant special recognition.

Those scoring between 86-100% on selected legislation received the honor, “Champion of Business.” Those who scored between 70-85% are recognized as “Friend of Business.” If you meet a state legislator running for re-election over the next few weeks, ask them what their BIA Scorecard percentage was (or look it up yourself online).

While the Scorecard is intended to hold legislators accountable for their response to business issues, the Victories & Defeats portion of the publication reports on the legislature’s efforts to enhance New Hampshire’s climate for job creation. By extension, the publication is a reflection of BIA’s efforts to influence public policy. As New Hampshire’s leading business advocate, our members expect us to communicate their concerns to elected officials. No one bats a thousand, but looking back at the 2018 session, BIA did well.

For example, in the area of employment law, we flashed some Gold Glove-caliber defense on a flurry of bills that would have allowed state government to intrude on private business decisions in everything from hiring practices to scheduling to benefits administration. We think employers know better than politicians how to run their businesses. Most lawmakers agreed with us, and all bills of this type, which are listed in the document, were defeated.

Another area where legislators heard us was on environmental policy. Most thoughtful business leaders agree the issue of emerging contaminants, such as PFOS and PFOA, should be taken seriously and thoughtfully addressed. Throughout the 2018 session however, we saw an overreaction to this issue. Although modern technology can now detect the presence of chemicals at increasingly smaller concentrations (parts-per-trillion), science around health impacts of smaller concentrations is lagging.

We saw lawmakers attempt to address this conundrum by tasking the state to do something the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency, academia, and industry scientists have yet to do: establish new standards for a cornucopia of compounds in the air, groundwater, and surface water. Then legislators proposed taking existing standards and unilaterally change them to arbitrary levels – levels not based on science, just numbers that would show their constituents they’re “doing something.” After articulating the folly of this approach, these bills were defeated.

We had a mixture of wins and losses in the areas of tax policy, economic development, health care, and education. For example, the House and Senate missed opportunities to put downward pressure on New Hampshire electricity prices, which are already 50-60% higher than the national average year-round. They instead listened to special interests that wanted ratepayer subsidies for unprofitable power generators.

The season at the State House is over and we spectators are already thinking about the next season coming up in January. BIA’s Legislative Scorecard and Victories & Defeats publication is a stat sheet for voters to evaluate their elected officials and determine who’s an MVP and who should ride the bench.