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Sheriff Brave Burning Through Budget as New Investigation Looms

Embattled Strafford County Sheriff Mark Brave, who is already the subject of a criminal investigation for alleged theft and abuse of office, could face another investigation into his tenure.

Brave denies any wrongdoing related to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s criminal investigation, which began last month. It is the second investigation into Brave’s conduct as sheriff this year after the Strafford County Commission hired an outside firm for an inquiry in January.

Now a well-placed source tells NHJournal that members of Strafford County’s State House delegation are considering getting involved. There is an effort to organize a delegation meeting to discuss and possibly vote to begin its own investigation.

“(They are) in the process of organizing a request for a delegation meeting to discuss opening a statutorily authorized investigation into any potential misdoings by elected or employed county officials,” the source said.

Under New Hampshire law, county delegations made up of state lawmakers have the authority to investigate the conduct of county officials. Under the provisions of RSA 24:17, the delegation can create an investigative committee that can summon witnesses and have them testify under oath.

Even without the headache of multiple investigations, Brave’s leadership as Strafford County Sheriff is running into difficulties. According to his department’s most recent budget report, Brave spent nearly 60 percent of his total $3.3 million annual budget in the first six months of the fiscal year. Brave has spent close to $2 million of his total in the first six months.

That included $244,000 for overtime pay, or 94 percent of the budget, in the first half of the year alone. The department is budgeted for $260,000 annually, leaving Brave with about $15,000 for the next six months. 

Brave has also spent 84 percent, or $388,000, of his budgeted $475,000 for retirement and $1,300 of $2,000 for unemployment, using 67 percent of the budget. Those expenses point to trouble keeping staff on the job.

In recent weeks, Brave made the criminal investigation public by telling reporters it is part of an escalation on the part of Commissioners George Maglaras, Robert Watson, and Deanna Rollo. Brave accused the trio of bullying him for political reasons. Brave even accused Maglaras of calling him a “token.”

Brave is reportedly under investigation by the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit for taking a female employee who is not his wife on a trip to Florida using taxpayer funds. Brave denied the accusation.

“They say I am abusing the travel budget, also not true,” Brave told the Foster’s Daily Democrat. “I have $18,000 a year for travel in the budget, and I have been using it to travel to other states where the sheriff’s departments are more progressive than here, to learn how to better involve us in the community.”

Commissioners hired Municipal Resources Inc. in January, a few weeks after Brave’s wife, Jamie Brave, was arrested for DUI in Portsmouth in December. The MRI report has not been made public, though Brave has used it to attack the commissioners, saying it was evidence his fellow Democrats were out to get him.

The commissioners pushed back in recent days, accusing Brave of leaking confidential information from the MRI in an effort to mislead the public.

“We are disheartened that Sheriff Brave would choose to go on a publicity tour using parts of the MRI report to defend himself in the totally separate Attorney General criminal investigation,” the commissioners said in a letter.

Speaker Asks AG to Investigate Vogt Over Florida Plane Ticket Offer

Maybe he should have stayed in Florida.

House Speaker Sherman Packard is calling on New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella to investigate the possible attempted bribery of Democratic state Rep. Robin Vogt (D-Portsmouth) by left-wing activist groups.

Packard (R-Londonderry) sent Formella a letter Friday asking for an investigation into Vogt, making the case that either the progressive activists who offered Vogt a free plane ticket violated state bribery laws or Vogt did by failing to report it to authorities.

“The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to not only bring this matter to your attention for review of a potential violation of the law but also to ensure that it has been properly reported to law enforcement as required by the statute,” Packard wrote.

Formella’s spokesman, Michael Garrity, told NH Journal that the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is looking into Packard’s allegations.

“At this time, the New Hampshire Department of Justice is reviewing a referral from the House Speaker’s office and will respond as appropriate in due course,” Garrity said.

The offer was made as a vote on the GOP’s Parents Bill of Rights approached. Vogt was vacationing in Florida on a long-planned trip. With the House nearly evenly split along partisan lines, progressive opponents of parents’ rights feared the bill could pass by as little as one vote. Left-wing activist Linds Jakows told Vogt he had no excuse to miss the session, as money was available to fly him back to New Hampshire.

“No. It is a luxury to actively choose to be in Florida for nearly a week now when there are funds to fly you to New Hampshire and back,” Jakows wrote to Vogt in a now-deleted tweet.

A free plane ticket would have been a clear violation of state law regarding gifts to legislators. The question before the attorney general is whether the offer of an illegal gift is itself against the law.

Vogt continues to reap the whirlwind from his decision to stay in Florida rather than return to Concord. Because he wouldn’t climb on a plane, his progressive allies are throwing him under the bus.

The leftist group New Hampshire Youth Movement (NHYM) revoked its endorsement of Vogt.

“This decision was not made lightly or out of spite,” NHYM’s Erika Perez wrote in a letter to House members. “NH Youth Movement is committed to having our base of young people be a huge part of decision-making, and after Rep. Vogt failed to show up to one of the most important floor votes of the year due to a vacation, our base was asking what we planned on doing to hold him accountable.”

Perez is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Manchester and is a registered lobbyist. According to a source, Perez has links to Linds Jakows, head of 603 Equity. It was Jakows who took to Twitter in the days before the Parents Bill of Rights vote to tell Vogt that there were “funds available” to cover his travel costs. After being questioned about the legality of those funds, Jakows claimed that “community members” were crowd-funding money for Vogt’s trip.

It was unclear who was raising money for Vogt, but in announcing its decision to revoke the endorsement, NHYM acknowledged on Twitter that it had taken part in communications to bring Vogt back to New Hampshire.

“Robin, despite all of our best direct efforts, did not show up in a way that NHYM can uphold as allyship. Because of that, we are revoking his endorsement, effective immediately,” the organization’s Twitter account stated.

New Hampshire Youth Movement is a registered 501 (c) 4 non-profit. 

Ultimately, Vogt stayed on vacation, and the Parents Bill of Rights (SB 272) was “indefinitely postponed” by a vote of 195-190, meaning the topic is dead under House rules for the rest of the current two-year legislative session.

Neither Jakows, Perez, nor Vogt responded to requests for comment. 

Packard’s letter cites RSA 640:2, Bribery in Official and Political Matters, which states it is a class B felony if a person “promises, offers, or gives any pecuniary benefit to another with the purpose of influencing the other’s action, decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, nomination, or other exercise of discretion as a public servant.”

Packard’s letter also noted it is a potential felony for the public servant not to report the attempted bribe; “Being a public servant, party official, candidate for electoral office, or voter, he solicits, accepts or agrees to accept any pecuniary benefit from another knowing or believing the other’s purpose to be as described in subparagraph I(a), or fails to report to a law enforcement officer that he has been offered or promised a pecuniary benefit in violation of subparagraph I(a).”

Offer of Free Air Fare Sparks Investigation Into Dem Tactics in Parents Rights Fight

New Hampshire House Speaker Sherm Packard (R-Londonderry) has ordered an investigation into tactics being used by House Democrats to pressure members over Thursday’s vote on parental rights legislation. Some of those tactics, including offering to pay for a member’s plane ticket for a flight from Florida, appear to violate House rules and, possibly, state law.

“We are looking into the matter, and we are concerned about the appearance of impropriety. Should there be evidence of a statutory or ethical violation, it will be referred to the appropriate enforcement authority,” Packard’s office said in a statement. 

At the center of the controversy is SB272, also known as the Parents Bill of Rights, which would force some public schools to end their current policy of refusing to answer parents’ questions about their children’s behavior regarding sex and gender.

“It says that schools and school employees cannot lie to parents,” said state Sen. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) when the bill passed the upper chamber in a 14-10 vote.

Now the bill is coming to the House, setting off a round of fear and loathing in Concord with Democrats offering carrots (in the form of a free plane ticket) and sticks: threatening a primary challenge if a House member supports the parents’ rights bill or fails to show up for the vote.

When Rep. Robin Vogt (D-Portsmouth) took to Twitter to say he was on a long-planned family vacation and won’t be in Concord to vote against SB272, Granite State progressives responded angrily.

“There is no one who supports a work/life balance more than me — but real allies show up,” tweeted Monica Venzke, until recently a spokesperson for the state Democratic Party. “Session ends in June. When you were elected, you knew that. These are the responsibilities you take on as a legislator; clearly, you cannot handle them.”

And progressive activist Linds Jakows told Vogt he had no excuse to miss Thursday’s session, as money is available to fly him back to New Hampshire in time to vote.

“No. It is a luxury to actively choose to be in Florida for nearly a week now when there are funds to fly you to New Hampshire and back,” Jakows wrote to Vogt in a now-deleted tweet.

Jakows is head of 603Equality, an LGBTQ nonprofit which is not registered as a lobbyist with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office, and it appears she’s offering something of value to a lawmaker to encourage him to vote. Not surprisingly, 603Equality’s behavior sparked concerns.

“I am outraged that an unregistered Democrat lobbying organization would offer to fund travel expenses for a legislator in order to influence the outcome of a vote,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn). “The ease at which this was offered leads us to believe that offers like Jakows’ seem to be the norm on the other side of the aisle.

“This is an example of Washington-style politics at its worst and does not represent Granite State values,” Osborne added.

It could also be a crime. Legal sources pointed NHJournal to New Hampshire’s criminal codes 640:2 “Bribery in Official and Political Matters;” and 640:5 “Gifts to Public Servants.”

Jakows declined to respond to questions from NHJournal regarding the source of these “funds” to pay for legislators’ travel or whether other lawmakers are getting funding as well. In a follow-up tweet, Jakows claimed a group of concerned community members was crowdfunding the money, though Jakows would not say who those people were.

“How many members of the New Hampshire House Democrats will be there tomorrow to vote against parental rights because a lobbying group paid for them to be there?” asked Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “Probably worth finding out.”

Thus far, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is staying out of the drama, saying Wednesday it is currently a matter of the Speaker’s Office.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are also being threatened by a representative of one of the state’s largest teacher’s unions, who warned not showing up or voting the wrong way could result in a primary challenge.

“ANY @NHSenateDems and @NHHouseDems who do not make a point to show up to vote NO on #SB272 and stand UP for young #queer lives on the line do not deserve our support,” tweeted Ryan Richman, vice president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “Especially if they primaried out @NHDems that showed up to protect Granite Staters from evil.”

Vogt pushed out long-time Democratic Rep. Jacqueline Cali-Pitts in last year’s Democratic primary and won favor with the AFT. The union endorsed him in the general election.

Vogt now faces the prospect of being pushed to take dark money plane tickets, which may or may not be legal, and could be made an example of by his union benefactors and see his political career cut short.

What is unique about Vogt’s drama is the public display of the pressure brought to bear on one representative, leaving voters to guess how many other representatives were being threatened and offered financial benefits behind closed doors. Or at least off Twitter.

Vogt, still vacationing, did not respond to a request for comment.

Barrington Voters Reject Firing Town Officials Over 2A Tactical

Hundreds of Barrington residents showed up Saturday for a special deliberative session designed to fire Town Administrator Conner MacIver and Town Treasurer Peter Royce and instead opted to support the two officials. 

The man behind the deliberative session, owner of 2A Tactical Rob Russell, wanted to get rid of MacIver and Royce, saying Royce improperly used his town potion to target his business with MacIver’s knowledge.

Barrington uses a two-step process for town meetings. The first is a deliberative session in which the articles are debated and can be changed. It is followed by a ballot vote. Russell spent months gathering signatures for a special town meeting with a single warrant article, firing MacIver and Royce.

At Saturday’s deliberative session, Select Board member Joyce Cappiello successfully pulled a 180 on Russell, amending the article to support the two town employees instead of removing them. The re-worded article now reads, “To see if the town will vote to encourage the select board to continue the employment of Conner MacIver and Peter Royce in their current positions with the town of Barrington and to recognize the many contributions the two have made to the town throughout their tenures.”

It was a major reversal just months after the town attorney reprimanded Royce for improperly using his town email to target the local small business and its owner.

Russell said Sunday he was gratified that so many voters showed up to hear out his arguments, even if he didn’t get his desired result.

“Yes, having my warrant article re-written was disheartening. But it’s part of the process,” Russell said. “And seeing 250 people show up for a deliberative session that I am told normally has less than 50 people was inspiring.”

Russell still plans to run for a seat on the select board in the spring.

Russell is a retired military veteran who runs 2A Tactical out of his Tolend Road home. He started the effort to oust MacIver and Royce after discovering Royce was orchestrating a campaign to shut down his business.

Russell originally opened it as a home business.  But as it took off, so did the traffic in his residential neighborhood, and so did the complaints. 

Russell soon found himself embroiled in a lawsuit as the town alleged zoning ordinance violations. However, after Russell prevailed during two zoning board of adjustment hearings, the town dropped the lawsuit last spring.

Royce is the part-time town treasurer and lives near 2A Tactical. Royce used his position and knowledge of town operations to actively lobby against Russell’s business, according to documents Russell uncovered. At one point, Royce used his town email to communicate with MacIver about the case. After prodding, MacIver told Royce that people could be encouraged to file complaints against Russell if they have concerns.

Royce allegedly organized people throughout the neighborhood to file complaints against Russell’s business, landing Russell before the ZBA, the select board, and the courts.

According to a letter from the town’s law firm to MacIver, Royce’s use of his official town email crossed the line.

“Mr. Royce is the town’s appointed treasurer. Of course, he does not lose his rights as a citizen by assuming such a position. He may contact code enforcement with concerns just as any other citizen may, and code enforcement treats his complaints no differently than those of other citizens. I agree that Mr. Royce should not be using his town email for any communications in his personal capacity, and he has been so counseled,” wrote attorney Laura Spector-Morgan to town officials.

Select Board Chair Dan Mannschreck told NHJournal that Royce got a talking to about his improper use of town email. Royce is paid about $7,000 a year for his job. MacIver was paid more than $78,000 last year.