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Bail Reform Brings Sununu, Sherman Together

Changing New Hampshire’s bail reform system, which critics say allows dangerous criminals to walk free, is a top priority for both Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye. 

“There should be outrage and appetite for change,” Sununu told WMUR’s Adam Sexton this weekend.

Sununu signed a bail reform bill in his first term after being assured it would balance public safety and the goal of avoiding putting non-violent offenders in jail for minor offenses. Instead, critics say, serious criminals are being released and reoffending.

“I signed it because it had the support of law enforcement,” Sununu said. “I said ‘Will this work?’ Everyone believed it would be OK, so we signed it. But we all see what was happening.”

Sununu was referencing the August murder of an elderly Manchester man by a suspect who had been arrested twice in the weeks leading up to the stabbing.

Manchester resident Daniel Whitmore, 75, was found with multiple stab wounds on a walking trail near Bradley Street in August. The suspect in the murder, homeless man Raymond Moore, 40, had been arrested twice last summer. Once in July in Nashua for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and again in August for another apparent stabbing incident. He was released from custody, and without bail, in both cases.

Manchester’s Democratic Mayor Joyce Craig took to Twitter to decry the state’s lenient bail system.

“Our criminal justice system cannot continue releasing violent offenders back onto our streets. I, once again, urge our legislators to act quickly and address this issue. The safety of our residents is at stake,” Craig said.

During his own WMUR appearance last weekend, Sherman also voiced support for changing New Hampshire’s bail laws to keep violent suspects locked up.

“Do I support rebalancing bail reform? Absolutely. Do I support protecting people from violent criminals? I always have,” Sherman said.

Sherman and Sununu supported the effort this year to change bail laws, but that proposal died in the legislature when the House voted it down. The bill lost support largely from Democratic members. Sherman said too many people did not seem to understand how the bill would work.

“The solution is we have to recognize — whatever we do for bail reform, we have to make sure the system will support it,” Sherman said. “That was the problem. The system did not support, with adequate scrutiny, who was being released and who was not.”

Sununu blames the left, especially progressive organizations like New Hampshire’s ACLU, for blocking the bail reform effort.

“You have the ACLU, these extreme left-wing groups that say they do not want to change anything,” Sununu said. “You have individuals that get arrested, they are getting out before the cop that arrested them has done the paperwork. It is messed up,” Sununu said.

New Hampshire’s ACLU claims the bail laws allowing more people to be released from custody has made New Hampshire safer. They say instead of finding ways to keep more violent suspects locked up, the legsilators should fund more community needs.

“Lawmakers should focus our limited tax dollars on investments that will actually make our communities safer and more just, like housing, transportation, and mental health and substance use treatment,” the ACLU stated earlier this year. “Pretrial detention has a devastating human toll. Even for a short period of time, it increases the likelihood of innocent people pleading guilty to a crime, loss of employment, income, and housing, and traumatic family disruption.”

The conservative Americans for Prosperity also opposed this year’s bail reform efforts, but it does support changes to the law. Ross Connolly, AFP’s deputy state director, said the organization wants to see bail commissioners replaced with magistrate judges when it comes to deciding who can be released and who needs to stay locked up.

“Pre-trial detention is a balance between public safety and the presumption of innocence,” Connolly said. “We understand the concerns with bail, and there is a way to address the issue without throwing out individual rights. Replacing bail commissioners with a magistrate system is a fix that all sides can get behind.  A magistrate system will improve public safety, will pass the legislature, and will cost Granite State taxpayers less than other proposals.” 

NH Judge: Parental Rights ‘Not Absolute’ in New Hampshire

A Hillsborough Superior Court judge has dismissed the lawsuit brought by a Manchester mother who says the school district’s transgender policy is interfering with her rights as a parent, with the judge ruling the mother’s rights as a parent are “not absolute.” 

Judge Amy Messer ruled the Manchester School District’s policy directing teachers and staff not to fully and accurately inform parents about their child’s expressed gender identity is fine. Messer ruled parents ultimately do not have the right to direct how their children are to be educated in public schools.

“(T)he right to make decisions about the care, custody, and control of one’s child is not absolute,” Messer wrote.

The mother, who filed the lawsuit under the pseudonym Jane Doe, stated in her original complaint that she found out in fall 2021 that her child was using a different pronoun and gender identity at school. The name of the school was withheld in court documents to protect the child’s identity.

The mother spoke with school staff, including the student’s guidance counselor. The mother made it clear she wanted her child to be called by the name and pronouns the child had at birth while in school, according to the lawsuit.

Even though the staff she spoke to initially agreed, the mother soon received an email from the school principal stating that, due to the district’s policy, the mother’s instructions were being overridden. The principal stated the district’s policy requires school staff to keep such matters secret from parents if the child so chooses, according to the lawsuit. Even if staffers agree to use the child’s true gender identity when speaking with the mother, they would be obligated to not tell the mother if the child wished to be identified as something else.

The policy states teachers and staff are not to tell anyone about a child’s gender identity without the express consent of the child. School employees are also directed to use the child’s biological pronouns and given name when talking about the child to people who do not know about the nonconforming gender identity.

Messer ruled the policy, which was originally produced by the National School Boards Association and adopted by the Manchester school district, does not interfere with parental rights because parents can still direct their child’s home life. Parents can still interact with their children, direct their medical care, and supervise their social lives outside of school.

“In short, the policy places no limit on the plaintiff’s ability to parent her child as she sees fit,” Messer wrote.

Messer’s ruling mirrored arguments laid out by school district attorneys, who essentially claimed Doe had no right to direct what happens to her child in the school building.

The district’s motion to dismiss claimed the policy did not interfere with the parent-child relationship, since the mother was free to have the child identify as their birth gender at home. However, according to the motion, the mother has no rights when it comes to the child’s identity at school.

“Whatever the scope of a parent’s rights vis-a-vis their transgender or gender nonconforming children, they do not include the right to force a school district to act as a conduit for the parent exercise of those rights in this fashion,” the motion stated.

Manchester School District did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Doe’s attorney, Richard Lehmann, said he was not done with the case.

“We will appeal the ruling,” Lehmann said.

Issues like Manchester’s transgender policy were behind this year’s push in the State House for a parental bill of rights. The proposal died in the previous session after Gov. Chris Sununu signaled he would veto the bill over concerns about the privacy and safety of the students.

A new New York Times/Siena College poll finds widespread opposition to the approach to sex and gender policies in schools pushed by progressive districts like Manchester. More than two-thirds of registered voters oppose sexual orientation and gender identity being taught in elementary school, Among independent voters, 71 percent oppose it, 57 percent of them strongly.

Shannon McGinley, executive director with the conservative Cornerstone Action organization, declined to comment on the lawsuit’s dismissal. McGinley and Cornerstone vocally supported the parents’ bill of rights.

“Schools are not courts of law and should not have the authority to unilaterally deprive people of recognized legal rights. This is a government entity that is increasingly being given vast and unquestioned power over our lives and the lives of our children,” McGinley said of the bill.

 

NH Legislature Passes $42 Million Energy Relief Plan in Bipartisan Vote

Granite Staters will get help this winter paying for heat and electricity after the legislature passed a $42 million plan to fund energy assistance for the middle class. 

“New Hampshire just delivered the largest energy relief package this state has ever seen, helping families in need this winter – using our state surplus funds,” said Gov. Chris Sununu as he signed a bill passed during the “Veto Day” session Thursday.

Democrats, on the other hand, used the news to repeat the debunked claim that Sununu is responsible for setting the state’s utility rates.

“The legislation the House just passed is critical to helping Granite Staters affected by Governor Sununu’s record electric rate hikes this fall,” said House Democratic Leader David E. Cote (D-Nashua).

Utility rates are set by the independent Public Utilities Commission.

Partisan rancor ahead of the midterm elections was not enough to prevent the legislature from enacting utility relief at a time when energy costs are soaring in New Hampshire and nationwide. The 12-month inflation rate is currently 15.8 percent for electricity and 33 percent for natural gas.

The new law uses surplus New Hampshire state budget funds to expand energy assistance this year, allowing middle-income New Hampshire residents to qualify for aid. Previously, the aid was only available to households earning up to 60 percent of the state median income. Lawmakers expanded eligibility to families earning up to 75 percent of the median, who can now apply for up to $450 in heating assistance and another $200 in electricity assistance.

Sununu originally wanted to use $60 million in surplus funding to send every home $100 in energy assistance, but that plan was rejected by lawmakers who came up with a more targeted proposal.

“That seems like a meaningless political gesture to me,” Rep. Steve Smith (R-Charlestown), said of Sununu’s initial plan.

Instead, lawmakers passed their proposal that will use $25 million on emergency fuel and electric assistance, $10 million on aid for electricity bills, and $7 million on an electric assistance program. The state’s surplus will be at around $120 million after the assistance is paid out.

Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) said the bill is not a long-term solution to high energy prices in New Hampshire, but it will help.

“Maybe it’s just a band-aid, but if you scrape your knee a band-aid helps,” she said.

House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) said not only will the bill help people pay for heating this winter, but it does so in a responsible manner.

“The fiscally responsible leadership of the General Court of New Hampshire has produced a budget surplus which allows us to create this one-time emergency relief package that will help offset rising fuel and electric costs this winter,” Packard said. “This bill provides direct relief to those in need and reduces the anticipated burden placed upon municipal welfare programs – a cost that would otherwise be passed along to property owners at the local level. We believe these surplus funds will alleviate some of the financial pressure for NH families who would otherwise not qualify for existing assistance programs. By coming together today, we chose New Hampshire citizens over party politics.

House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) blamed President Joe Biden and members of New Hampshire’s federal delegation for making inflation worse.

“Due to no fault of their own, many Granite Staters who have not previously needed assistance may find themselves unable to pay their bills this winter and do not qualify for the federal assistance programs. We want to ensure those people have some help,” Osborne said.

New Hampshire Democrats, however, point the finger of blame for rising utility costs at Sununu.

“New Hampshire has become an outlier in New England with record rate increases because Gov. Sununu has consistently rejected efforts to increase energy efficiency and production of renewable energy,” Cote said. “Granite State families cannot afford the 50 percent increase that will hit them this fall, and this bill provides temporary relief for lower-income households that are ineligible for existing programs.”

In fact, New Hampshire currently has the second-lowest electricity rates in New England and historically had lower rates than Massachusetts.

The legislature also failed to override any of Sununu’s eight vetoes.

Experts Say Gunstock Donations to Sununu Didn’t Violate the Law

The headline at left-leaning InDepthNH reads, “Questions raised about donation from Gunstock to Sununu’s 2020 campaign.”

Right-wing secessionist state Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont) called it “inappropriate and possibly illegal.”

So, what is the deal with the $500 campaign donation from the Gunstock Area Commission (GAC) to Gov. Chris Sununu’s 2020 campaign?

The answer, according to experts on New Hampshire election law, is “not much.”

Sununu actually received two campaign donations made to the Friends of Chris Sununu from the Gunstock Area Commission, one for $500 to his 2020 campaign and another to his 2022 re-election bid of $1,000. His opponents have suggested the money — approximately 0.07 percent of the $1.9 million Sununu raised for the 2020 campaign — may have influenced his behavior toward the county-owned facility.

Leaders in the New Hampshire Democratic Party suggested Sununu broke the law, or at least created the possibility of criminal action, by accepting the GAC donation. Gunstock is owned by the people of Belknap County and operated by the management team hired by the commissioners. The commission is appointed by the members of the county’s House delegation, led by Sylvia.

“Gunstock is publicly funded by Belknap County taxpayers, and if Sununu were to have used that public funding for his 2020 gubernatorial campaign, that donation could be in violation of campaign finance law,” the New Hampshire Democratic Party said in a statement.

Sununu’s team, led by campaign advisor Paul Collins, has maintained from the beginning the allegations were nonsense.

“Under state law, a contribution from the Gunstock Area Commission is not a prohibited political contribution and the Friends of Chris Sununu did nothing wrong in accepting a contribution,” Collins said.

RSA 664:4, which lays out what counts as an illegal campaign donation, backs up Collins’ statement. New Hampshire bans contributions from business partners and labor unions, and it limits individual contributions to no more than $5,000. Candidates are also limited to giving $10,000 to their campaigns.

As one longtime GOP strategist who worked on many campaigns told NHJournal on background, “We have so few campaign laws in New Hampshire, it’s almost impossible to illegally accept a contribution.”

On the question of whether the GAC violated the law by making donations, the enabling legislation that created Gunstock explicitly says the commission has the power to “solicit, receive, hold, and expend any gifts, grants, or donations from any source made for any purpose set forth in this act.”

According to Assistant Secretary of State Orville “Bud” Fitch, the secretary of state’s elections legal counsel, if there is any other law in question, that is a matter for the attorney general. Fitch said any enforcement of the RSA 664 comes from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

So far, Attorney General John Formella’s office has been silent on the question of the campaign donations.

“At this time, the Attorney General’s Office will not be commenting on ongoing matters involving the Gunstock Area Commission, as the New Hampshire Department of Justice has recently received various pieces of information regarding Gunstock that we are currently reviewing to determine appropriate next steps,” said Michael Garrity, director of communications for the New Hampshire Department of Justice.

The management team walked off the job two weeks ago in protest of the way the commission operated. The resort was shut down and members of the public started getting angry about the situation. Finally, commissioners Peter Ness and David Strang resigned from the commission under pressure, and the management team agreed to return to their posts.

Gunstock is the largest employer in the county and a major economic driver for the whole region. The facility was in danger of not being able to open in the winter if the team did not return to their jobs.

Gunstock Team Rehired, But Insists Strang Needs To Go

The management team that walked off of their jobs in protest after months of clashing with members of the Gunstock Area Commission were rehired Sunday, contingent on Commissioner David Strang resigning or being removed.

The management team told commissioners last week they could come back and restart operations at Gunstock Mountain Resort only if Commissioners Peter Ness and David Strang quit or were removed from their positions.

Last week, Strang and Ness walked out of a contentious meeting during which members of the public chanted for them to quit.

Under that pressure, Ness quit last week, but Strang continues to hold on. On Sunday, Commissioners Jade Wood and Doug Lambert voted to rehire the team, contingent on Strang’s removal. Strang did not appear at the meeting and called in from home.

A meeting of citizens and Gunstock Mountain Resort officials on Sunday, July 31, 2022. (Twitter)

The resort is owned by Belknap County and the commissioners are appointed by a vote of the county’s state delegation. Only the Belknap County Delegation can remove Strang from the commission. 

Ness and Strang have the support of the delegation head, Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont). However, they appear to have lost support from the other representatives.

Rep. Mike Bordes (R-Laconia) said a majority of the delegation’s members have agreed to call a meeting Monday, where they are expected to remove Strang. Bordes said most of the delegation is now opposed to Strang remaining on the commission.

“From my understanding, yes (they are opposed,)” Bordes said.

Sylvia has taken heat for the fiasco at the ski resort, which is the largest employer in the county and a year-round economic driver. The facility generates millions of dollars in revenue for the local and state economy. It just had a record season that saw $9 million in revenue.

Bordes said even though the delegation plans to remove Strang there are no plans to change the delegation’s leadership at this time.

The dispute over the mountain’s operation has become a wide-ranging fight. When the management team quit, Gov. Chris Sununu called out Sylvia and his followers in the delegation for their handling of the situation in an open letter to the people of Belknap County.

“These individuals have made bad decisions and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset the Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer,” Sununu wrote.

Sununu offered the Gunstock management team jobs with the state if they were unable to resolve the dispute with the commission.

Sylvia responded by accusing Sununu of unethical behavior in interfering with the dispute. Sylvia claims Sununu is being swayed after his reelection campaign accepted a $500 donation from the Gunstock Area Commission in 2020.

The donation check, signed by Gunstock General Manager Tom Day, is not a problem, according to Lambert, who said Day explained that donation when asked about it.

Though Sununu’s team maintains no law was broken, Democrats are using the donation to attack him. Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley issued a statement making vague accusations that Sununu may have violated the law. 

Gunstock is publicly funded by Belknap County taxpayers, and if Sununu were to have used that public funding for his 2020 gubernatorial campaign, that donation could be in violation of campaign finance law,” the statement reads.

The NHDP did not respond to a request from NH Journal for the specific law that was violated. It is not clear from any legal expert contacted by NH Journal if Sununu’s campaign broke any law by accepting the donation.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has so far stayed out of the dispute.

‘Resign, You Guys!’ Controversial Gunstock Commissioners Storm Out of Meeting

The Gunstock Mountain Resort management team that walked off their jobs last week will come back, but only if two Gunstock Area Commissioners quit their oversight roles. 

State Rep. Mike Bordes (R-Laconia) said the management team wants to see Peter Ness and David Strang leave the commission.

“If they resign, the management team will come back,” Bordes said.

Commissioner Doug Lambert said it is urgent to get the team back in place and get the resort operating and preparing for the coming season.

“Winter is looming, even though it may not feel like it outside,” Lambert said. “It comes fast and the preparations that are involved are rather enormous. Every day lost could potentially be impactful at the other end.”

The county-owned ski resort has been closed since the mass resignation of the management team in response to the inept oversight by commissioners. Gunstock General Manager Tom Day, Cathy White, chief financial officer; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of human resources; Patrick McGonangle, facilities operation director; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing, all quit last week in protest.

Though the team gave their two-weeks notice, the commission responded by sending Belknap County Sheriff’s deputies to have them removed the following day. This week, four other mid-level managers quit their jobs, too, leaving the facility unable to operate its summer activities and unlikely to be open for the winter.

Lambert said more staff is going to quit if something is not done. He plans to get the resort team to put in writing their agreement to come back once Ness and Stang are gone.

The facility generates millions of dollars in revenue for the economy, and just had a record season that saw $9 million in revenue. Without the team members who quit agreeing to come back, it would be difficult to reopen. Finding professionals in the ski industry willing to take the job might be impossible, Bordes said.

“Who’s going to want this job with everything going on around it?” Bordes asked.

The commission met Tuesday at the urging of local leaders and members of the public to set a schedule to reopen. Lambert said there was also indication Ness and Strang were set to go into a non-public session to make new hires in order to temporarily get the site going.

Instead, Commissioner Jade Wood presented Strang and Ness with resignation papers to sign. Bordes said people were chanting for them to quit and shouting over them when they tried to speak.

“Resign, you guys, it’s what the people want!” Bordes shouted as Ness and Strang stormed out of the meeting. They did not offer their resignations.

 None of the commissioners responded to a request for comment.

“They didn’t resign. But to me, that’s walking off the job,” Bordes said,

Bordes, Wood, Lambert, and others plan to push the GOP-controlled Belknap County delegation to remove Ness and Strang if they will not go on their own. Bordes wants to see the management team brought back.

“I give them credit, they really stood up for what they feel is right,” Bordes said.

The members of the Gunstock Area Commission are appointed by the elected county delegation to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Belknap’s delegation is controlled by controversial state Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont). Lambert has spoken to Sylvia about dealing with the situation but said Sylvia would not agree to call a delegation meeting. Lambert has been contacting all 18 members of the delegation to get the situation resolved.

“It’s unclear right now if there is some ability to have an emergency meeting,” Lambert said. “I have impressed on them that this is an emergency.”

Sylvia is part of the political fringe and was behind the effort to have New Hampshire secede from the United States. His proposal only got 13 votes in the legislature and it was widely mocked.

Commission and delegation members have been feuding with the Gunstock team for months. Lambert said it boils down to conflicts over leadership and who had authority over day-to-day decisions. He said Ness was seen as interfering in the finance office, and even the snow sports planning at the resort, by members of the team.

“(The management team) felt the relationship had become untenable. They no longer had a comfort level to be able to work with the commission,” Lambert said.

Sununu Urges Recall of Belknap State Reps in Gunstock Fiasco

Gov. Chris Sununu called out Republican members of the Belknap County legislative delegation over the fiscal fiasco at Gunstock Mountain Resort, and he has got an unusual ally in the fight: state Sen. Bob Giuda, who has endorsed one of Sununu’s opponents in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

Sununu, Giuda, and other Republican leaders are pointing the finger of blame at Republican Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), best known as a leader in the fringe movement to get New Hampshire to secede from the Union. Sylvia and a handful of his fellow GOP legislators, including Reps. Norman Silber, R-Gilford and Gregg Hough, R-Laconia, have waged political war on the leadership of the popular resort.

In response to the questionable tactics of the commission appointed by the delegation, Gunstock’s leadership resigned en masse.

“These individuals have made bad decisions and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset the Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer,” Sununu wrote in an open letter to Belknap residents released Thursday. Sununu called out Sylvia, Silber and Hough by name, as did Giuda.

“They just had the best year in Gunstock history, with $9 million in profit, and the commissioners went to war with the Gunstock management,” Giuda said.

“The delegation, under Mike Sylvia’s chairmanship, have taken it upon themselves to wreak havoc for no reason. This is a vindictive bunch who believe in extreme measures, and this is not the New Hampshire way.”

The new commission has been sparring with Gunstock’s management team for months, with Sylvia making unfounded accusations of mismanagement. 

On Wednesday night, the resort’s management teams were excluded from the commissioner’s table at the meeting, a break from past practice. That was seen as a bridge too far, and Gunstock General Manager Tom Day stood up and gave his two weeks’ notice. His resignation was quickly followed by Cathy White, chief financial officer; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of human resources; Patrick McGonagle, facilities operation director; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing, according to an NHPR report.

The resort is now closed for business.

The ski area is owned by Belknap County. It has always been managed by a five-member commission appointed by the county delegation. Giuda said the ski area is vital to the local economy and the leadership team at the mountain had been doing a great job.

Sylvia did not respond to a request for comment. Silber said Thursday he was preparing a statement on his behalf, as well as Sylvia and Hough’s, but that statement had not been received at press time.

District 2 State Senate Candidate Tim Lang said he “stands with Governor Sununu and Senator Giuda in opposing the Belknap County Delegations’ reckless actions that have led to this mass departure at Gunstock. Gunstock is a jewel of the Lakes Region that has brought outdoor family recreation to generations of Granite Staters.”

Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch quit in protest Wednesday night soon after the management team gave their notice. Neither Kiedaisch nor any of the remaining members of the commission, Peter Ness, Douglas Lambert, David Strang, and Jade Wood, responded to requests for comment on Thursday.

Giuda blames all the GOP members of the Belknap County delegation, and he also blames Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem). According to Giuda, Morse killed his amendment that would change the Gunstock Area Commissioners from being appointed by the delegation to being elected by the voters of the county.

Giuda included the change as an amendment to a bill that would have changed the length of terms for Rockingham County officials, but Morse opposed it because he did not want to potentially alienate Rockingham voters, Giuda said.

“I asked him why, to which he answered, ‘Because I need the Rockingham County vote,’ referring to his U.S. Senate campaign,” Giuda claims. “By killing the amendment for his own political gain, Morse emboldened the warring delegation members and hostile GAC to continue their assault on the Gunstock team.”

Morse’s team did not respond to a request for comment.

Morse is a candidate in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. Giuda has endorsed Don Bolduc in that race.

Gunstock Mountain hosts summer activities, including an adventure park, that have been forced to close after the commission sent sheriff’s deputies to have staff removed from the premises on Thursday. Giuda called the situation a complete disaster.

“They have destroyed the most profitable, forward-looking management team the Gunstock Area Commission has ever had,” Giuda said.

Giuda said there is a method to the seeming madness. He accused Silber of wanting to privatize the public asset, and that the destabilizing actions of the commissioners he helped to appoint move the mountain resort closer to that goal. Right now, no one with any experience in running a ski area will want to work for the commission.

Silber has made no secret of his stance, writing op-eds for local papers urging the resort’s privatization.

Sununu is calling on the commission to find a way to keep the management team and keep the operations at the mountain going. Short of that, Sununu is offering jobs to all the team members who quit, either with the state Parks Department or at the state-owned Cannon Mountain.

“Their loss is immeasurable for Gunstock, and we all hope that this crisis can be avoided,” Sununu said.

“The people of Belknap County have all the opportunity in the world, whether it’s through elections or a recall effort,” Sununu told WMUR Thursday. “Change that team. Bring that management team back in.”

Sylvia, who moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State libertarian movement, could only convince 12 of his fellow House members to vote for his secession plan, a vote that inspired mockery of New Hampshire around the nation. Sylvia was also caught on a hot mic making racist comments, saying that secession supporters should tap into racist sentiment to push their agenda.

For Giuda, however, Sylvia’s most damaging actions have been right in Belknap County.

“This is the worst debacle in Gunstock’s history,” Giuda said. “I would be surprised if Gunstock survives.”

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote by Sen. Giuda to Gov. Sununu. We regret the error.

Sununu Launches $100M ‘InvestNH’ Initiative to Fight Housing Shortage

Thousands of housing units could be added to New Hampshire in the coming months if Gov. Chris Sununu and his allies in the state’s business community get their way.

Sununu unveiled details of his $100 million investment plan on Tuesday. He hopes it will alleviate the housing crisis that experts say is making it harder for employers to recruit workers and for young people to remain in the state.

Starting next week, developers will be able to apply for money from the new InvestNH Housing Fund, which will help cover the financial gaps in hard construction costs on affordable multi-family developments.

“We’re moving quickly. We don’t want to just talk about things in this state, we want to make them happen,” Sununu said.

Though New Hampshire’s economy is booming, the lack of affordable housing could put that growth in danger. There are tens of thousands of high-paying jobs available in New Hampshire, but not enough potential workers can find places to live, Sununu said.

“We just need affordable housing in this state to keep up with the level of economic growth,” Sununu said.

Elissa Margolin, director of Housing Action NH.

Businesses cannot find workers, and people are not taking jobs in the Granite State because there is nowhere to live. Ellisa Margolin, director at the non-profit Housing Action NH, said the $100 million fund represents a serious effort to address the crisis that impacts the state’s entire economy.

“The workforce shortage that we’re experiencing is directly related to our shortage of housing in this state,” Margolin said. “If it’s difficult for a new medical resident to accept his residency at an area hospital because he can’t find housing he can afford, you can imagine what it’s like for a single parent with children.”

Nicole Ward, general manager at the Copper Door in Bedford, is lucky enough to live in workforce housing located behind the restaurant. She said the potential for more businesses to be able to provide affordable housing for employees will make for better businesses and communities.

“I just think a project like this, being able to provide more affordable living for employees like myself, would lead to a better work ethic, more longevity and less turnover, and a better work environment altogether,” Ward said.

The InvestNH Housing Fund will use money from the state’s portion of the American Rescue Plan Act. The fund will direct $60 million to go toward developers. Of that, $10 million will go to the New Hampshire Housing Authority, and another $10 million is earmarked for non-profit and small-scale for-profit developers.

The remaining $40 million is going to municipalities to help streamline the process to get the projects built. There is also money municipalities can use to demolish old structures and for updating zoning ordinances to meet current needs.

Taylor Caswell, New Hampshire’s Business and Economic Affairs commissioner, said the state wants to encourage affordable multi-family developments, whether it is a large apartment project or a small Victorian home on Main Street that could be converted into a five-unit apartment building.

“The goal is to get more units online as fast as possible,” he said.

According to the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank based in Concord, the unwillingness of communities like Manchester to allow more housing construction has limited their growth when compared to nearby communities.

Between 1970 and 2020, the total number of housing units in the Queen City grew by just 37 percent. In Salem, they grew by 76 percent, in Nashua by 80 percent, and statewide by 127 percent. As a result, Manchester’s population and economic growth also lagged behind.

“Because city officials chose to limit growth, Manchester’s population and economy have grown at a slower rate than the rest of the state as a whole,” wrote the Bartlett Center’s Drew Cline. “Artificially limiting the city’s housing supply created a drag on the city’s economic growth and cultural life.”

The state’s housing shortage, which is contributing to its employee shortage, is just one of the current challenges facing the state. Another is the recent announcement of soaring electricity rates from the state’s largest utilities.  Sununu recently announced a $60 million utility bill relief package that includes a one-time $100 dollar grant to some 600,000 electric ratepayers. He also has plans to address the looming home heating crisis that will take hold this winter as oil costs continue to skyrocket.

Sununu said Washington is to blame for rising prices that are hurting New Hampshire families.

Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs Taylor Caswell.

“This energy crisis in America — the Biden administration has created a massive problem,” Sununu said Tuesday. “When it costs you twice as much to put gas in your car, it’s going to cost you at least twice as much to put home heating oil into your tank.”

Sununu’s Democratic opponent in November’s election, state Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye) dismissed Sununu’s efforts as too slow and lacking in transparency.

“New Hampshire’s housing crunch is making it difficult for families to pay their bills each month and companies to find workers,” Sherman said. “While Granite Staters have been struggling for years, Sununu delayed so long in distributing rental assistance funds that nearly $20 million in federal funds were reallocated to other states. Sununu was the last governor in the region to put ARP funds towards affordable housing and chose to create a brand new program with more red tape instead of efficiently investing in existing programs. We need to make sure this is a transparent process that helps Granite Staters, not just a handout to campaign donors during an election year.”

Sununu said he was working with House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, and Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, to address the heating crisis using state surplus funds. Sununu’s plan would allow the state to expand eligibility for heating assistance so that more families would be able to benefit. He is not interested in waiting for Congress to change the rules to make the federal assistance program more accessible as Granite Staters struggle to heat their homes. 

“We are not going to wait for the winter to see if the feds get around to fixing their problem,” Sununu said.

Information about the InvestNH Housing Fund and how to apply can be found at www.invest603.com. 

AG: Protesters Who Shut Down Exec Council Meeting Won’t Face Charges

Granite Staters watched in confusion and embarrassment last September 29 as a handful of rowdy anti-vaccination protesters shut down a meeting of the state’s Executive Council, taunting the crowd, threatening state employees, and ignoring the law enforcement officers gathered at St. Anselm College.

Eight months later, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has finally finished its investigation of the event. It says there will be no prosecutions. 

“Given the specific facts of this case and the state’s inability to prove any potential criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the state will not bring criminal charges against any individual as a result of their conduct on September 29, 2021. The Attorney General’s Office is closing its review and will take no further action on this matter,” Attorney General John Formella and State Police Colonel Nathan Noyes said in a statement.

They acknowledged there was evidence the protestors committed the crimes of obstructing government administration and disorderly conduct. But, they said, it was not enough for the state to bring charges.

The dozen or so protestors effectively took over the meeting, roaming among the attendees for close to an hour shouting complaints about access to Ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment, repeating false claims of “thousands of deaths” from the vaccine, and warning vaccination supporters they would be treated the way Nazis were treated after World War II.

“You’re going to be held accountable,” one woman cried. “Maybe not now, but years from now — Nuremberg trials!”

 

“FEMA camps!” shouted a man wearing a Karen Testerman for Governor t-shirt, referencing a conspiracy theory about government roundups of non-compliant citizens first circulated by progressives against President George W. Bush.

Dozens of police officers were on-site from State Police and Goffstown. But they never intervened to stop the protestors. Instead, they escorted employees from the Department of Health and Human Services employees to their cars, employees who said they felt threatened by the protesters.

Without those employees on hand to testify, councilors claimed the meeting could not go forward.

As video of the police standing by amid the chaos hit New Hampshire TV screens, some citizens began questioning why the trained law enforcement officers did not act. Asked if there had been a review of the officer’s inaction, attorney general spokesperson Michael Garrity told NHJournal,  “Any review of the actions of any involved law enforcement officers would be handled administratively by their respective agencies and would not involve this office.”

The issue of police refusing to act is particularly sensitive in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. He also skipped out of the meeting in September, leaving Councilor Dave Wheeler (R-Milford) to announce to the worked-up crowd the meeting was being canceled.

Wheeler said at the time several state employees felt unsafe at the meeting and left. Since those employees were needed to answer questions from the council members, the meeting could not take place.

“Mission accomplished,” one protester shouted at the news.

Councilor Cinde Warmington (D-Concord) said at the time New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette made the decision to have her staff leave as the protesters grew increasingly agitated. Staffers were escorted to their cars by New Hampshire State Police troopers.

When the DHHS employees left the auditorium, the situation in the room got worse.

“Once that happened, we got reports from State Police and the commissioner of safety that the room had become more disruptive and they felt it had become unsafe,” Warmington said.

Despite police deeming the situation unsafe, none of the protestors will be charged. New Hampshire does arrest and prosecute protestors frequently, according to Pat Sullivan with the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association. 

“They’ve charged them at Seabrook protesting the nuclear power plant,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan declined to comment on the Executive Council protestors. The town of Newfields wrote an anti-picketing ordinance specifically so it could arrest protesters upsetting the governor’s family by protesting near his house. The Newfields police even arrested the New Hampshire Journal reporter who was covering the protest.

That reporter is scheduled to appear in court July 7.

Many of the same protestors were arrested at the October meeting for their disruption. Michael Garrity, Director of Communication for the Attorney General’s Office, said none of the prosecutions of those arrested in October will be impacted by Tuesday’s decision. Asked why protesters engaged in the same behavior were not charged with a crime in both cases, Garrity said the office could not comment.

“Because the cases that arose out of the 10/13 meeting remain ongoing, we cannot comment on those matters,” Garrity said.

The New Hampshire Department of Safety has refused to even say how many police officers were at the meeting.

“(T)he Department of Safety does not publicly discuss operational details or tactics,” Paul Raymond with the Department of Safety said in September when asked by NH Journal.

Raymond claimed at the time the failure to arrest the protesters in September was due to concern for their constitutional rights.

“Decisions on whether to effect an arrest require officers to carefully consider the fundamental rights granted to protesters by the First Amendment, the text of the criminal code, as well as the safety and security of other bystanders and attendees,” Raymond said.

That concern was apparently resolved when police arrested many of the same protestors for the same behavior a month later.

Shaheen Calls Sununu ‘Cowardly’ On Guns. But Remember Carl Drega?

In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen took to Twitter to accurse Gov. Chris Sununu of cowardice. But her own record as governor is problematic.

In response to a tweet from Sununu regarding the Robb Elementary School shooting, Shaheen wrote, “How can anyone be complacent with this status quo? Refusing to enact common-sense gun reforms is cowardly, irresponsible, and deadly.

“Buffalo. Uvalde. Tulsa. Las Vegas. Orlando. Newtown. Parkland. Aurora. Columbine,” Shaheen added. “The list goes on.”

But there is another town she could have added to the list: Colebrook, N.H.

In August 1997, Carl Drega shot and killed four people in Colebrook, including two New Hampshire State troopers in the state’s only mass shooting. 

Carl Drega

Described as a disgruntled loner who blamed local officials for his wife’s death from cancer, the 62-year-old Drega had repeatedly been involved in disputes over zoning regulations and property taxes with the town of Columbia, N.H. Years of frustration boiled over into deadly rage on August 19 when state troopers Les Lord and Scott Phillips pulled him over for excessive rust on his truck.

Drega stole the dead officers’ police car and drove to Colebrook District Court to hunt down Judge Vicki Bunnell, who was also a Columbia selectwoman and had a restraining order against him. Drega shot her eight times in the back. When Dennis Joos, editor of the Colebrook News and Sentinel, tried to wrestle the AR-15 away from him, Drega killed him, too.

Drega went to his house in Columbia and set it on fire. He was confronted by N.H. Fish and Game warden Wayne Saunders, who Drega shot and wounded. He then fled across the river to Vermont for a last stand, during which three more law enforcement officers were wounded before Drega was finally shot to death.

It was a shocking crime in a small community. A library in Stewartstown was later named for Joos in honor of his courage. Books have been written about the horrific events of that August day.

And who was governor in 1997? Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

In the aftermath of New Hampshire’s only mass shooting, then-Gov. Shaheen didn’t sign any laws restricting gun ownership or making it more difficult to buy AR-15s. Indeed, Democrats have held the corner office for 19 of the 25 years since Drega’s rampage and New Hampshire still has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation. 

NHJournal repeatedly contacted Shaheen’s office for a comment about her gun control record, her accusation of cowardice against Gov. Sununu, and what she would do in response to the mass shooting in Texas. She declined to respond.

Associate Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, Director of the Public Protection Division, said the FBI defines mass shooting incidents as those with four victims, not including the shooter or shooters.

“The Congressional Research Service defines mass shootings as multiple, firearm, homicide incidents, involving four or more victims at one or more locations close to one another,” Strelzin said.

While Drega’s shooting is the only one to meet the FBI’s definition of a mass shooting, Strelzin said there are two other incidents in which three people were shot.

In July 2007, Michael Woodbury shot and killed three men in a store in Conway. In 2010, Ken Arsenault shot three people in Pittsburg. One victim later died.

Both of those shootings also occurred on the watch of Democratic Gov. John Lynch. During his record four terms, no significant gun restrictions were put into place.

Hassan’s contribution to gun control as governor was vetoing the constitutional carry bill that Sununu would go on to sign into law.

The Gifford Law Center, a non-profit dedicated to preventing gun violence, gives New Hampshire an F in gun control laws.

“New Hampshire lacks many basic gun safety protections and, in fact, has weakened its gun laws in recent years—state lawmakers must reverse this deadly trend,” the Giffords ranking states. “New Hampshire has not passed any meaningful gun safety laws in years, and recently enacted a law that allows people to carry loaded, hidden handguns in public without a background check or permit.”

But according to Jim Goulden, a Nashua defense attorney who specializes in gun crime cases, New Hampshire politicians who support gun control usually end up out of office.

“I don’t know of any New Hampshire politician who has pushed for greater gun control,” he said.

New Hampshire’s gun laws tend to focus on punishing people who use firearms in the commission of a crime, or who possess firearms while being legally prohibited from doing so, he said. Goulden said the results of New Hampshire’s laws are evident.

“If we’re going by crimes involving firearms, New Hampshire has very good gun control, we have very few gun crimes,” he said.

Last year, the FBI released crime statistics for 2020, finding a 30 percent surge in murders nationwide, but not in New Hampshire. According to the FBI’s data, there were 6.5 murders per 100,000 people nationally. In New Hampshire, it was 0.9 per 100,000 or 12 murders for all of 2020.

The 2020 statistic may be an anomaly. Michael Garrity, director of communication for the New Hampshire Department of Justice, said the state typically averages about 19 murders per year, and 2022 is following the trend.

“There have been 11 so far this year, so there has been no spike in homicides,” he said.

Goulden said no matter the gun laws anyone wants to propose, the only real change will happen when people start getting serious about addressing mental illness.

“Until people start taking personal responsibility for themselves and their own families, mental illness, always going to be an outlier,” he said.