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Ruais Goes to Concord Seeking Bail Reform

Less than 24 hours after being sworn in, Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais was already at work on one of his top priorities: reducing crime on his city’s streets by fixing the state’s broken bail system.

Ruais led a bipartisan coalition of Manchester officials to the capitol Wednesday morning, where he laid out what he sees as the brutal math from lax bail rules.

“The reason I made this one of my first official acts is to highlight the importance of this issue to our city,” Ruais said. “In 2023, 813 criminals were arrested, released, and rearrested. Many of these criminals were not just arrested for petty crimes but violent assaults, robberies, and other serious offenses.

“There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that would have a more transformative effect on the city of Manchester than reforming our state’s bail laws,” Ruais added.

Since 2018’s controversial bail reform law, thousands of alleged Manchester criminals charged with violent crimes have been released without bail only to get arrested on new charges. Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester) said some of those suspects have been charged with murder.

“Eight is the number of times my constituent was stabbed to death by somebody already out on double-PR bail,” Berry said.

Ruais, a Republican, scored his upset victory over Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh in last year’s election by running on issues like crime, homelessness, and the city’s lack of order. The word is out on the street in Manchester that criminals get a free pass, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long warned.

“I recall being in a (homeless) encampment in Manchester and overhearing the residents in that encampment talking about no concern with breaking into cars, trespassing. There was no concern (because) they would be back out on the street in a couple of hours,” Long said.

Long is also a Democratic state representative.

The original bail reform bill passed in 2018 was aimed at keeping poor people who are charged with non-violent crimes from getting locked up because they could not afford a $100 or $200 cash bail, according to Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester). Soucy said even in 2018, she and other lawmakers were worried about the unintended consequences.

“This has been an issue for a long time,” Soucy said. “I was in the Senate when we initially enacted bail reform, and although well-intentioned, I think we all recognized this law needs fine-tuning.”

Ruais promised in Tuesday’s inaugural address he would champion bail reform and lobby lawmakers until they got it right.

“The fight for our security will continue today, it will continue tomorrow, and it will continue until everyone in our community feels safe,” Ruais said Tuesday.

Ruais made sure to get to Concord Wednesday, on his first full day on the job, to put friendly pressure on lawmakers as they opened their legislative session for the year. Two proposed bail reform bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, have a good chance to pass this session.

Ruais isn’t saying which proposal he prefers, leaving it up to legislators to do their job in crafting a bill that works and will pass.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted to move its bill, SB-249, to the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Daryl Abbas (R-Salem) said it is past time for a bail reform bill that protects people.

“We have heard testimony for years in both the House and the Senate that we need bail reform. We have dangerous individuals committing crimes, being released on bail, and then immediately reoffending,” Abbas said. “No one should be denied bail solely because they cannot afford it, and this bill will not change that. This bill requires a judge to determine whether a violent offender poses a threat to the public before being released. Senate Republicans have been fighting for years for common sense bail reform, and we will continue to do so to keep our communities safe.”

Violent Crimes Remind Voters of Manchester’s Troubles on Election Eve

Voters take to the polls on Tuesday after another violent week in Manchester.

Three people were stabbed Saturday by a man wielding a box cutter at the Capital Auto Auction on Londonderry Turnpike. Byron Bloomfield, 25, is charged with three counts of first-degree assault for the attack.

But, there is a good chance Bloomfield will be back on the streets in time to vote. The Queen City keeps seeing people charged with serious crimes get easy bail.

On Tuesday, Manchester Police arrested Anastase Kabura, 24, on a charge of being a felon in possession of a deadly weapon while investigating a disturbance on Precourt Street. Kabura had been arrested days before on a disorderly conduct charge and was quickly released.

The revolving door at the courthouse is leaving Manchester’s streets unsafe, said Jay Ruais, the GOP candidate for mayor.

“Time and time again, we see violent criminals released on bail and rearrested. We must fix the broken bail system to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe … The safety and well-being of Manchester residents and visitors is at risk every time a violent criminal is released back out onto our streets,” Ruais said. 

In recent months, two men charged in an Elm Street shooting got released on relatively low cash bail. In another incident, 10 people were arrested for being part of a street fight in the area of Auburn and Cedar Streets, where two men were stabbed. Most of the suspects were quickly released on bail.

Ruais is running as a change agent against current Mayor Joyce Craig’s hand-picked successor, Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh. Ruais wants to see the bail system plaguing New Hampshire fixed, he wants to concretely deal with the city’s growing homeless problem, and he wants to get a handle on the opioid crisis.

Critics of the city’s current leadership argue Cavanaugh is essentially running as Craig 2.0, offering more of the same policies the incumbent mayor has already tried. “I want to build on the progress we’ve made in the past few years,” Cavanaugh said in an ad.

Many Manchester residents don’t see the past few years as a time of progress.

Manchester’s homeless population continues to grow, seeing a major increase over the past several years. According to the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness, the Manchester region was home to more than 1,700 homeless people in 2021, the most recent data available.

The homeless population is tied to the city’s opioid addiction crisis, with half the opioid overdoses taking place among that group. 

“We have a city filled with promise, but the drug problem and homeless crisis are contributing to the serious public safety concerns we have and are keeping us from reaching our full potential,” Ruais said.

Manchester is on track for more than 720 opioid overdoses this year, according to American Medical Response data, the biggest number of overdoses since 2016.

Crime statistics show Manchester is the top spot for violent crime in New Hampshire, far outpacing other cities and towns. Data from the Manchester Police Department show the city is experiencing a drop in property crime this year, though violent crime reports are holding steady compared to prior years.

“The status quo that we are seeing here in the city cannot continue,” Ruais told WMUR. “We cannot tolerate the disorder and dysfunction we’re seeing on our streets, and we also can’t tolerate the human suffering we’re seeing.”

‘Catch-And-Release’ Bail System Frustrating Cops, Endangering Citizens

Hours after Nashua’s James Morris was charged with senselessly assaulting police officers during a traffic stop, he made bail and was back on the streets.

“It’s certainly frustrating for the officers,” said Nashua Sgt. John Cinelli. 

James Morris

Morris, 32, is just one of the alleged violent offenders who have caused mayhem in recent days in incidents throughout the state, incidents abetted by New Hampshire’s reformed bail system. 

The 2018 bail reform was meant to eliminate the unintended consequence of the cash bail system that resulted in cases of poor people charged with relatively minor, nonviolent crimes but who were unable to afford bail.

People like Jeffrey Pendleton, a 26-year-old Nashua panhandler arrested in 2016 on a marijuana possession charge. Pendleton ended up in Valley Street Jail in Manchester when he couldn’t come up with the $100 cash bail. Five days later, he was found dead in his cell from a drug overdose.

But now, instead of protecting poor, nonviolent offenders, bail reform is letting people charged with violent felonies stay on the street.

Police stopped Morris’ car near School Street Friday night, and he refused to give the officers his identity before he decided to start fighting with them, according to Cinelli.

“We have no idea why he did that,” Cinelli said.

On Thursday, Concord homeless man Victor Manns, 23, allegedly stabbed two tourists on South Main Street and led officers on a prolonged manhunt. Manns’ was walking around despite being charged with assault in June and again in August in separate incidents.

Victor Manns

According to police, the couple were in their car parked in front of a business on South Main Street when Manns, wearing a mask and a hood, approached and began hitting the car. The alarmed couple got out of the car. Manns reportedly brandished his knife, threatened the pair, and then stabbed them, according to police.

Manns ran from the scene of the attack, kicking off a two-hour police search of the downtown area before he was captured.

On Friday, Claremont woman Brandie Jones, 33, allegedly hit a Nashua police officer with her car to avoid a felony arrest. At the time of the incident, Jones was wanted in Londonderry on warrants, including a breach of her previous bail in another case.

Brandie Jones

Nashua police had previously stopped Jones but gave a false name to officers as she had been convicted of being a habitual traffic offender by the state. If caught driving, habitual offenders face new felony charges.

After getting stopped for the second time on Friday night, Cinelli said Jones was getting out of her car as instructed by police when she changed her mind. With the door still open, she got back in the driver’s seat and sped off. The open car door hit one officer, Cinelli said.

Jones made it to Londonderry, where she ditched her car and ran. Londonderry Police eventually found her with the help of a police dog and took her into custody. 

Cinelli said that none of the Nashua officers suffered any serious injuries from the incidents involving Jones and Morris. The couple attacked by Manns both suffered lacerations, and one sustained minor injuries, which required a trip to the hospital. 

Cinelli said the 2018 bail reform law makes it easy for people charged with a crime to avoid jail, get back out, and re-offend. 

“When these guys are getting bail and getting out that quickly, what is going to stop (them) from doing it to more officers or civilians who don’t have the ability to defend themselves,” Cinelli said.

Jay Ruais, the Republican running to replace Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, has been demanding changes to the state’s bail system as crime becomes a bigger problem in the Queen City. In recent weeks, two men charged in an Elm Street shooting got released on relatively low cash bail. In another incident, 10 people were arrested for being part of a street fight in the area of Auburn and Cedar Streets, where two men were stabbed. Most of those suspects were quickly released on bail.

“Violent, dangerous, and repeat offenders should never be on our streets,” Ruais said. “As mayor, I will make sure our police have the resources and tools they need to make our community more safe.”

Ruais Wins Big in Manchester Biz Alliance Straw Poll

Manchester’s next mayor needs to deal with the city’s homeless crisis and rampant crime, and members of the Manchester Business Alliance (MBA) who attended Wednesday night think Republican Jay Ruais is the man for the job.

Ruais trounced his three Democratic competitors, Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, and June Trisciani, in the MBA straw pool Wednesday evening. Ruais got 84 percent of the vote following the group’s town hall forum with the candidates, where he focused his message on making Manchester safe.

“Manchester is looking for solutions and action, not talk,” Ruais said.

Ruais is the sole Republican in the race and the only candidate who is not a member of the Board of Aldermen. He has made public safety — in particular, crime and the city’s homelessness crisis — his top issue. Last month, he laid out a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness, and he is the only candidate who has pledged to promote a bail reform plan to keep more offenders off Manchester streets.

A homeless encampment at Pine and Manchester Streets near the Families in Transition emergency shelter in Manchester.

“This truth was evident in (Wednesday) night’s straw poll. As the issues portion of the poll indicated, homelessness and crime are the two biggest issues in our city, and I am the only candidate in this race to have introduced a comprehensive plan to end the homeless crisis and make our neighborhoods and streets safer,” Ruais said.

The city’s homeless crisis continues to grow as the number of people living on the streets in dangerous and unclean camps in parks and on sidewalks steadily increases. This week, Cavanaugh, Stewart, and Trisciani all voted against a proposed fix for the city’s ordinance against camping on public property.

Republican Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur, who proposed the change, told WFEA’s Drew Cline Thursday that the Democratic-controlled Board of Aldermen is allowing the problem to worsen.

“Manchester has branded itself as the place to come if you are a homeless person,” Levasseur said.

Homeless people are living all over the city, mostly in the downtown areas. Parks and sidewalks have become encampments and no-go zones for some residents.

The sidewalks around the Families in Transition adult emergency shelter at the corner of Manchester and Pine streets host one homeless camp in the heart of the city. Men and women were seen in makeshift shelters there last weekend, sprawled out on the sidewalk. People in the camps were aggressive and violent when encountered by NHJournal.

No one on the Board of Aldermen seems serious about dealing with the immediate problem and its negative impact on the quality of life in the city, Levasseur told Cline. 

Levasseur believes Manchester’s handling of homelessness is in conflict with state law, and he wants city police to have more tools to use to stop camping on public property. The proposed change would have resulted in civil violations and possible fines for homeless people who camp on public property. 

Moving people out of homeless camps on public property is a hot-button issue in the Queen City, with opponents claiming it violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“I don’t understand why getting a citation is the same as ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’” Levasseur told Cline. “If you want to talk about ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ try being an alderman under Joyce Craig.”

The city opened a new shelter this year after Mayor Joyce Craig ordered one homeless camp cleared. But the problem only seems to get worse, Levasseur said. He argued Manchester taxpayers have shelled out $29 million over the last six years funding shelters, new staff, and other initiatives to deal with the crisis to little effect. 

“Every single thing we can do we have done, but there doesn’t seem to be an end to it,” Levasseur said. 

Manch Mayor Hopeful Ruais Backs Bail Reform, But Dems Dodge Issue

A week after two men charged in the Ash Street shooting were released on bail, the three Democrats running to become Manchester’s next mayor have yet to address the need for bail reform.

Jay Ruais, the sole Republican running against Democrats Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, and June Trisciani, called their silence “unconscionable.”

“Our police and our city deserve better,” Ruais said Tuesday, pledging to “fight to fix our broken bail system to keep dangerous, violent and repeat criminals off our streets.” 

The city’s SWAT team responded to a report of a fight last week to find a man suffering a gunshot wound to his leg. In short order, Brandon Middaugh, 32, and Justin Middaugh, 30, were both arrested, charged with simple assault, and released.

“It’s the same story every day in Manchester. A police officer heroically does their job, and the offender is back out on the streets before the ink is dry on their paperwork,” Ruais said. In a statement, his campaign said, “Ruais is the only candidate for mayor to call for significant reforms to our state’s current bail system. He is now calling on the rest of the candidates to join him in demanding a fix to this problem.”

His Democratic opponents have stayed silent.

All three — Stewart, Cavanaugh, and Trisciani — refused to respond to NHJournal’s request for comment or explain their stance on bail reform. All three are elected members of the city’s Board of Aldermen. The three are devoting the remaining days before the Sept. 19 primary canvassing and talking up issues like housing, homelessness, and the arts for Stewart, reproductive rights for Trisciani, and organized labor for Cavanaugh.

Ruais said their silence on crime and bail reform simply isn’t good enough.

“I urge the voters of Manchester to hold our elected official’s feet to the fire and demand an answer to this question. Will they support the status quo, or will they fight for our city’s safety?” Ruais said. “I am the only candidate in this race who will deliver action and results to fix the public safety issues we are seeing on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

Between April and December of last year, Manchester Police arrested more than 700 people who were already out on bail. That included homeless man Richard Moore, 41, who allegedly stabbed and killed 75-year-old Daniel Whitmore last year. Moore was on bail for two separate violent incidents when he allegedly killed the elderly man. 

Even though Manchester Police statistics show a drop in all reported crimes from this time last year, Manchester residents have been experiencing an uptick in crime in recent months. Property crime reports were at 238 for July, the highest of the year so far. The most recent data available runs through the end of July.

The number of violent crimes reported has been lower on average for much of the year, about 31 incidents per month through April, but spiked to 50 in May. June and July saw 46 and 49 incidents, respectively.

There are other red flags in the data. There were just five homicides in Manchester in all of 2022. By the end of July this year, there have already been another five homicides.

Reports of drug crimes totaled 538 for the year through the end of July, slightly higher than the same period in 2022, which saw 516 reports.

Ruais Decries Decision to Release Manchester Shooters on Personal Recognizance

Two men arrested for their alleged involvement in a Manchester shooting this week are back on the streets, thanks to New Hampshire’s PR bail system. 

A PR bond, or personal recognizance bond, is a type of bail bond that allows a defendant to be released from custody without paying any money upfront. Instead, the defendant must promise to appear in court for all scheduled appearances. The defendant’s word is essentially their bail bond.

It is another example of the failed bail reform that is making cities like Manchester unsafe because violent criminals aren’t going to jail, said Jay Ruais, the sole Republican candidate for mayor.

“This incident highlights the massive problem Manchester is facing right now. Every day, our police officers heroically perform their duty, and before the ink is dry on the paperwork, violent offenders are released back out onto our streets.” Ruais said. “The status quo in the city of Manchester cannot, and must not continue. This makes our city less safe and creates a system that encourages criminal activity and behavior.”

Brandon Middaugh, 32, and Justin Middaugh, 30, were arrested this week after an Ash Street shooting sent a man to the hospital. A Police SWAT team responded to a report of a fight, and officers found a man with a gunshot wound in his leg outside.

Brandon Middaugh

Justin Middaugh

The Middaughs were both later charged with simple assault and released. Justin Middaugh’s criminal history includes leading police on a high-speed chase and fighting with officers who eventually arrested him for drunk driving

Last year in Manchester, 75-year-old Daniel Whitmore was stabbed and killed by homeless man Raymond Moore, 40. Moore was out on bail for assault at the time of the stabbing.

And in June, a man threatened Dollar Tree employees with a box cutter during a shoplifting attempt. Manchester police arrested the man, who had recently been released on bail.

It is past time for the bail system to be fixed, Ruais said, vowing to fight to make sure that happens.

“For the safety and security of our city, the next mayor must fight to fix our broken bail system to keep criminals off our streets. I am the only candidate in the race demanding a fix to our broken bail system to keep dangerous criminals off our streets,” Ruais said. “Our jails cannot be a revolving door for violent criminals. It is past time for our city’s leadership to step up and fight for a fix to the broken bail system that is devastating Manchester families and businesses.”

Ruais is the only candidate running for mayor who has made bail reform a major campaign issue. Democrats like Will Stewart and June Trisciani have been focusing on issues like housing and education and largely avoided talking about bail reform at the recent mayoral candidate forum. 

Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh, who supported the 2018 bail reform bill that critics like Ruais say has failed, blamed Republicans in Concord for not fixing the problem.

“We have to get violent people off the street,” Cavanaugh said at the forum. “The Republicans have the power in Concord to do that, and for the past two years, they wouldn’t do it.”

Efforts to scale back the 2018 bail reform law were shot down this year by a coalition of Free State-aligned Republicans and progressive Democrats. The New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union pushed hard against any proposal to keep criminals in jail.

The NH ACLU claims the 2018 bail reform has not made communities unsafe and has helped keep poor people from being treated unjustly.

“Until bail reform in 2018, thousands of Granite Staters were incarcerated pre-trial each year not because they were a danger to their community, but simply because they could not afford to pay their bail,” Frank Knaack, the NH ACLU’s policy director wrote. 

Opioid Issue Returns to NH Politics as Overdoses Soar to Five-Year High

During 2016’s First in the Nation primary, the issue of opioid addiction surged to the national stage, partly due to the Granite State crisis. President Donald Trump later credited his New Hampshire victory in part to frustration over the flow of opioids over the U.S. southern border.

“I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den,” Trump said in 2017.

Now comes a new report that opioid overdoses in Manchester and Nashua are at five-year highs, and political candidates are again focusing on the issue.

American Medical Response crews were called out to 99 overdoses in July in Manchester and Nashua, the highest number of overdoses in a single month since 2018, according to Chris Stawasz, the AMR’s Regional Director of Government Affairs — Northeast.

“The high death rate per capita is attributed to synthetic fentanyl, which is now commonly found in all types of illicit substances in New Hampshire,” Stawasz said. “People who are using illicit substances have no idea that what they are using contains synthetic fentanyl – or how potent the synthetic fentanyl in the product is. Synthetic fentanyl can be lethal the first time you use it, knowingly or unknowingly.”

Eight people died in July from opioid-related overdoses, four in each city, according to Stawasz. 

AMR’s statistics show that through the end of July, medics responded to 415 suspected opioid overdoses in Nashua and Manchester, with 68 of those calls suspected opioid deaths. Manchester accounted for 40 of the deaths and Nashua for 28.

In Nashua, suspected opioid overdoses are 10 percent lower than last year. But at the same time, fatal opioid overdoses were up 10 percent. In fact. Stawasz said more than 20 percent of the suspected opioid overdoses that AMR medics responded to in Nashua have been fatal.

In Manchester, suspected opioid overdoses are 2 percent higher than last year, though total suspected fatal opioid overdoses in Manchester are 13 percent lower.

Candidates at the federal and local levels are speaking out.

“Sadly, drug overdoses are increasing in New Hampshire faster than anywhere else in the country, and Communist China is to blame,” former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told NHJournal. “President Biden should confront Xi Jinping’s drug war and put an end to it today. Stop all normal trade relations with Beijing until they stop killing Americans.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the issue during an event in Rye, N.H., last week, pledging to “lean in against the drug cartels.”

“If they’re trying to bring fentanyl into our communities, that’s going to be the last thing they do. Because at the border, they’re going to be shot stone-cold dead,” DeSantis said.

And Democratic presidential contender Robert F Kennedy, Jr. just released a documentary, “Midnight at the Border,” that addresses the cross-border drug trade and the need for action.

“These numbers represent both a state and national tragedy. Our national government has failed the American people,” Kennedy said in a statement to NHJournal. “The open border has enabled an acceleration of illegal drugs including opioids and fentanyl to move across America creating a social, economic, and spiritual disaster for our country.

“The lack of enforcement at the border has far-reaching consequences for health policy and law enforcement. As President, I will close the border and make available treatment centers for those who are struggling with addiction. I intend to restore America’s sovereignty and restore the health of our people.”

In Manchester, the overdose epidemic runs in tandem with the city’s homelessness crisis. Mayor Joyce Craig has said at least 50 percent of the city’s overdoses happen among the homeless population.

The city’s Board of Aldermen will consider changing an ordinance next month that could give police more legal authority to prevent homeless people from camping on public property.

None of the Democrats running for mayor, Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh, Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, or Alderman At Large June Trisciani, responded to NHJournal’s calls and emails last week.

Republican candidate Jay Ruis wants to see police given more power as part of a larger strategy to address homelessness and addiction.

“We must deal with this issue in a comprehensive way, one that includes enforcement of our ordinances, addressing the underlying causes of this crisis like addiction and mental health, while increasing the availability of affordable housing. What we cannot do is govern in fear of lawsuits, and I support this proposed ordinance change,” Ruais said.

Republican candidate for governor Kelly Ayotte has pointed the finger at Massachusetts as one source of the problem. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen drugs, the fentanyl being trafficked off our southern border from Lowell and Lawrence, Mass. into our cities, and it’s killing our citizens,” Ayotte said.

Massachusetts officials complained, and some in the media suggested her comments were “racially tinged.” But the problem continues.

On Friday, Lawrence, Mass. man Santo Evangelista Soto, 36, was sentenced to five years in prison for being part of a trafficking ring that brought drugs into New Hampshire. Soto, a twice-convicted trafficker, reportedly sold counterfeit prescriptions made with deadly ingredients.

In one of the drug deals Soto allegedly pulled off during the investigation, he sold 1,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills that contained heroin and methamphetamine.

Soto is not the only trafficker operating in the state. Joseph Goffinet, Jr., 53, of Manchester, was arrested and charged last week on charges of distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances in connection with the sale of fentanyl. His alleged co-conspirator, Walter Velez, 41, was arrested in late July.

Both Goffinet and Velez allegedly sold vast quantities of fentanyl in Manchester.

AG Asked to Review Craig’s Handling of RTK Request in Harmony Montgomery Case

A Manchester alderman has asked the state’s attorney general to look into Mayor Joyce Craig’s office and its handling of a request for emails from the mother of Harmony Montgomery, the seven-year-old girl allegedly murdered by her father.

Now Gov. Chris Sununu has gotten involved, contacting the AG’s Office regarding the matter and decrying Craig’s lack of accountability.

“It is about leadership. You have to be able to be transparent, be responsible, be accountable. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of accountability out of the mayor’s office,” Sununu told NHJournal Thursday.

Sununu contacted Attorney General John Formella’s office after hearing complaints from Manchester Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur about Craig’s questionable handling of a Right to Know request.

“I received a message from local leadership in Manchester. I brought it to the attention of the attorney general and asked if they were looking at it,” Sununu said.

Michael Garrity, communications director for Formella’s office, said the matter is under review.

“We are aware of the matter. We have not made a determination regarding any potential next steps,” Garrity said.

NHJournal filed its Right to Know request with Craig’s office last month soon after the affidavit detailing Harmony’s gruesome murder was unsealed. It was the first time the public learned what police said happened to the little girl. Additionally, the affidavit also sheds light on the failures of the Division of Children, Youth and Families to keep tabs on a child known to be in an abusive home, as well as the response of other officials, like Craig.

NHJournal requested any emails sent to Craig by Harmony’s mother, Crystal Sorey, as well as any response from the mayor’s office. Craig’s office ignored the request, made under the state’s RSA 91-A, and did not respond until contacted by an attorney well after the statutory deadline had passed.

The eventual response from the City of Manchester’s IT Department claimed there were no emails between Sorey and Craig’s office.

In reality, there were at least two: A Dec. 29, 2021, email from Sorey to Craig pleading for help finding her child; and a response from a member of Craig’s staff to Sorey declining to offer any aid and informing Sorey to call 911 if she felt her daughter was in danger.

At that point, Harmony Montgomery was already dead.

Craig’s mishandling of the matter is symptomatic of her failed leadership in Manchester across the board, from housing to education to the opioid crisis, Sununu said.

“Unfortunately, Manchester has had a leadership problem for quite some time. Joyce Craig’s leadership style is to hide under the desk and blame everyone else. And it’s a shame because with the unprecedented amount of money and support around schools and mental health and the opioid crisis, the rest of the state is redesigning their systems and providing opportunities for their citizens,” Sununu said.

“The people of Manchester should be furious that they’re being left behind.”

Craig isn’t seeking re-election, instead launching an exploratory committee for a bid for governor in 2024.

One candidate hoping to replace Craig in the mayor’s office, Republican Jay Ruais, said Craig and her staff should have done more for a desperate mother.

“When a person reaches out in crisis, every effort should be made to address their concerns, follow up, and assist in making appropriate connections while using the power of the office to make a difference,” Ruais said.

Ruais also faulted Craig and her team for ignoring a Right to Know request, saying it creates an atmosphere of distrust between the elected representatives and the public they are supposed to serve. 

“The mayor’s office needs to be accountable, transparent. and swift in its actions when working with the public. The failure to release these records contributes to the already growing distrust of our elected officials in Manchester,” Ruais said. “A good leader making good decisions should have no problem being open to the people who elected them. Manchester has a right, and the mayor’s office has an obligation, to communicate what is going on in City Hall. Anything less than full transparency is completely unacceptable.”

Levasseur is angry with the way Craig and her office seem to be covering up the emails. His email to Sununu, sent Wednesday night, demands some form of accountability.

“I would appreciate (an) AG’s Office investigation into the city of Manchester’s IT Department. Couldn’t find the email? How many other RTK requests has that department covered up for Craig?” Levasseur wrote.

Shannon MacLeod, Craig’s chief of staff, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. MacLeod is also the staffer who initially ignored NHJournal’s Right to Know request for the emails.

“When an extremely important email sent to the mayor’s office goes missing- (could not be found after a FOIA request by the IT Department), it leads one to question the level of trust we can have in our city officials,” said Lavasseur. “I believe the attorney general of this state should be investigating the city’s IT Department and the mayor’s office to find the actual reason a specific email from Harmony’s mother could not be found. The answer from our IT Department raises more questions and concerns. The citizens of Manchester deserve answers.”

The puzzling aspect regarding Craig’s actions is the fact Sorey’s email to her office has already been reported in the press and is a matter of public knowledge. NHJournal sought a copy of the email as well as any response after the unsealing of the murder affidavit filed against Harmony’s father, Adam Montgomery. 

That affidavit, written by Manchester Police Detective John Dunleavy, states the investigation into Harmony’s disappearance started when representatives with the Division of Children, Youth and Families reported they could not find the girl on Dec. 27, 2021. 

Sorey had already called Manchester police on Nov. 18, 2021. The affidavit does not indicate police received any communication from Craig’s office following Sorey’s email to the mayor’s office.

Manchester Gets a ‘D’ From Truth in Accounting Org Over Rising Taxpayer Debt

As three-term Mayor Joyce Craig prepares to leave office later this year — possibly to run for governor — she’s leaving behind $276 million in debt, a hole in city budgeting most taxpayers know nothing about.

That is the finding of the nonprofit Truth in Accounting project, which analyzes government budgets and reveals what the public books would show if industry practices were followed.

The Illinois-based 501(c)3 recently looked at the financial reports for New Hampshire’s two biggest cities, Manchester and Nashua, and found both laden with debt that isn’t always disclosed to residents. That type of debt and tax hiding is hurting taxpayers and harming communities, said Sheila Weinberg, co-founder and president of Truth in Accounting.

“We really believe that our representative forms of government are being harmed because citizens are making decisions on tax policy, spending policy, and who they even vote for based on misleading or wrong financial information,” Weinberg said.

On a grading scale of A through F, Manchester and Nashua got D’s from Truth in Accounting, partly due to the lack of transparency.

Looking at the 2021 audited financial reports for each city, Weinberg found Manchester taxpayers face $276 million in debt, while Nashua residents have $272 million thanks to practices like inflated revenue projections, understating the true cost of government functions, and counting borrowed money as income.

In Manchester, clearing out that debt would cost $5,800 per resident. According to the report, it would cost $7,300 for each Nashua resident.

The biggest accounting problem Weinberg found is how the two cities report retirement and healthcare benefits for city employees. In Manchester, the city only recently started including total employee compensation costs in financial reports. Before that, the city would not report how much taxpayers would be paying to fund the pensions and healthcare of employees once they retire.

“That is going to have to be paid by future taxpayers. So these employees are gonna retire, these employees are not gonna be working for future taxpayers, right,” Weinberg said. “But those taxpayers will be responsible for paying for their healthcare when they retire.”

Manchester taxpayers are shouldering a $267.5 million bill for unfunded pension obligations and $54.3 million in unfunded “other post-employment benefits,” or OPEB. Nashua’s split is $221.9 million in unfunded pension obligations and $76.4 million in unfunded OPEB benefits.

 

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig announced she is leaving office after years at the helm, letting the next mayor deal with the more than $300 million in unfunded taxpayer obligations.

Jay Ruais, the Republican candidate for mayor, called the report a wakeup call on the need for a fiscally-responsible chief officer in the Queen City.

“A mayor has a responsibility to be a steward of the taxpayer’s dollar and to manage the city’s finances responsibly,” Ruais said. “Our city cannot reach its full potential if we treat taxpayers like a piggy bank and fail to properly plan and prioritize our budgeting, both now and in the future. Using one-time funds for long-term projects, the routine increase in taxes and spending, and the inability to make difficult choices put the city on a dangerous fiscal path.”

Neither Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart nor At-Large Alderman June Trisciani, both Democrats running to replace Craig, responded to a request for comment.

According to Weinberg, elected politicians tend to spend money that should be going to pensions and OPEB obligations to keep taxes low and fund more popular government programs. This cost-shifting just pushes the bill onto future taxpayers, while politicians appear to be balancing their budgets while keeping taxes low and funding services, she said.

Truth in Accounting’s mission is to show taxpayers the real cost of their government.

“We have worked for years to recast government’s financial reports to show a truer picture of their financial condition, bringing business accounting to these financial statements instead of the political math that is used by the governments,” she said.

 

Mayor Craig’s Manchester School Budget Called Irresponsible

Now that she doesn’t have to run for reelection in Manchester, Mayor Joyce Craig is leaving the city with a school system that is losing students and a budget that relies on $30 million in one-time funding. 

Craig’s proposed 2024 budget uses $30 million in COVID relief funds to pay for ongoing school district expenses like salaries and staff benefits, as well as transportation costs. Craig’s use of temporary revenue will become a problem for whoever takes her job next. Craig recently announced she is not running for a fourth term.

Jay Ruais, a Republican running for mayor, said Craig’s budget for 2024 is irresponsible.

“Using one-time funds for recurring costs is a band-aid approach, not a long-term solution to our city’s needs, and is a practice that will continue to harm us down the road,” Ruais said.

“Communities like Manchester will continue to face significant education funding gaps as long as the state continues to underfund public education and downshift costs to local taxpayers. I encourage the legislature to pass pending legislation that reinstates state contributions for teacher retirement and increases State Adequate Education Aid,” Craig said during this month’s annual budget address.

Craig blames a drop in state education funding for creating the need to use federal funding for operating expenses this year. In fact, state aid has increased on a per-pupil basis. It’s falling enrollments that are costing the district funds, leaving taxpayer groups to ask why the city needs more money to educate fewer students.

According to data from the New Hampshire Department of Education, since 2000, enrollment in Manchester schools has fallen by nearly 28 percent. At the same time, per pupil costs have risen more than 55 percent.

Craig’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Victoria Sullivan, a Republican considering another run for mayor, said Craig is going to leave the city by giving residents a tax increase after she’s long gone.

“The increased tax burden facing the taxpayers next year when the city has to reconcile the budget without the tens of millions of Cares Act, ESSER, and ARPA funds that have been irresponsibility used will either force significant layoffs across our city or force rents and property taxes to skyrocket,” Sullivan said. “Our citizens cannot afford this short-sighted budget or the inevitable consequences of it.”

Manchester’s projected State Adequate Education Aid grant comes to a little more than $44.8 million for 2024. That’s based on an anticipated average daily attendance in the district of 11,601 students.

Since the State Adequate Education Aid is based on those attendance numbers, the city’s adequate funding depends on its ability to keep families and students. Last year, with more than 12,000 students, Manchester schools got more than $45.5 million from the state, meaning the projected 2024 grants are hardly a large drop in funding. 

In 2014, Manchester was getting more than $46 million from the state in adequacy grants thanks to the fact it had more students. At the time, Manchester’s average daily attendance was more than 13,000 students.

Manchester isn’t alone in losing students. According to data released by the New Hampshire Department of Education earlier this year, The Granite State has seen a 22 percent drop in the number of students since 2002. That year, there were 207,648 students enrolled in schools in 2022. The number has fallen to 161,755 enrolled for the current school year. Meanwhile,  the cost per pupil has gone up an average of 78.4 percent since 2000. 

Craig’s $390 million total 2024 proposed budget for the city and school district is headed to the Board of Alderman for approval. Of that, the school district budget is about $190 million. Craig boasted in a recent budget address she’ll be able to lower local real estate property taxes under her plan using money left over from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, part of the CARES Act.

The ESSER funding was sent to districts in order to make sure students were still getting an education during the COVID emergency. The U.S. Department of Education recommended using the money to support remote learning for all students, especially disadvantaged or at-risk students, and their teachers.

Ruais said Manchester is ready for leadership that knows how to balance a budget without tricks.

“Our city cannot achieve its full potential unless we have a fiscally sound budget. Year after year we see taxpayers footing the bill for irresponsible spending practices, as taxes continue to go up,” he said.