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Gun Shop Owner Targeted by Barrington Town Officials Has Signatures to Force Vote

The business owner behind a popular Barrington gun shop has the signatures necessary to go after the town officials who he claims targeted his livelihood. 

“They have to call the meeting now,” said Rob Russell.

He isn’t stopping with a special Town Meeting to fire the town administrator and town treasurer. Russell now wants a seat on the town’s select board. He plans to run for one of the seats up at the March Town Meeting. 

“I don’t even want to run for selectman, I don’t have the time. But I feel a sense of duty,” Russell said. “These selectmen just don’t care about the people.”

Russell, a retired military veteran who runs 2A Tactical out of his Tolend Road home, recently submitted petitions with the signatures of 178 registered voters, enough to trigger the special Town Meeting he wants to be called to have Town Administrator Conner MacIver and Town Treasurer Peter Royce fired.

Royce was caught using his town office to orchestrate a campaign against Russell’s business, according to documents compiled by Russell.

Russell’s 2A Tactical gunsmithing shop has been the center of controversy for years in Barrington. He originally opened it as a home business, but as the business took off so did the traffic in his residential neighborhood.

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

Select Board Chair Dan Mannschreck, said this week that once all the signatures are verified the board will put scheduling the meeting on its next agenda. 

“We hope to do it as soon as possible,” Mannschreck said.

Russell is presenting a single warrant article for the meeting, one that essentially asks voters to either fire or keep MacIver and Royce. However, since Barrington is an SB 2 town, voters will first be given the opportunity to have a deliberative session to discuss the warrant article, and offer any changes, before the official ballot vote Mannschreck said.

Russell is worried the deliberative session will be stacked with those opposed to firing Royce and MacIver and that his warrant article will get watered down or changed. 

Russell is a military veteran and a former police officer. His shop is staffed by other veterans and the business has built up a community of loyal customers. They come to his store on the residential Tolend Road for classes as well as events.

What is unusual about Russell’s case, according to documents shared with NH Journal, is that Royce, the part-time town treasurer, used his position and knowledge of town operations to actively lobby against Russell’s business. At one point, Royce used his town email to communicate with MacIver about the case. After prodding, MacIver told Royce that people were encouraged to file complaints against Russell if they have concerns.

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

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

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

MacIver did not respond to a request for comment. Previously he said Royce was talked to about his email use, but it was not clear if there were any other consequences. Except, perhaps, Russell’s special Town Meeting.

New Hampshire Best New England State for Veterans

New Hampshire is the fifth-best place in America — and the best state in New England — for military retirees. Neighboring Vermont ranks dead last.

That was the finding of a new data analysis by Wallethub that reviewed overall economic opportunity, quality of life, and access to healthcare for veterans. New Hampshire was number five, just ahead of Maine (8), Connecticut (11), and Massachusetts (14). Rhode Island came in a dismal 43. Vermont was at the bottom of the list.

Part of New Hampshire’s appeal to veterans is the low tax environment. Jeremiah Gunderson, director of Veteran and Military Affiliated Services at the University of Texas at Austin, said military retirees want to be where their military pension will not get taxed.

“I find it ridiculous that we make people pay taxes after choosing to sacrifice so much of their lives in service to their nation,” Gunderson said. “As tax-funded employees of the DOD, with taxpayer-funded retirement pay, why are we taking taxes on tax-generated retirement pay?”

Radio host Jack Heath, host of the syndicated show Good Morning New Hampshire, is an outspoken advocate for veterans through his work with Fusion Cell, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life. He also does an annual radiothon to raise money to help veterans. This year he brought in $104,000.

Word is spreading about the opportunities in New Hampshire for military retirees, Heath told NHJournal.

“I think there’s increasingly a growing network that veterans leaving the military are hearing about,” Heath said.

New Hampshire has a high percentage of military retirees among its residents despite not being home to a large military base or installation.

Heath said veterans are attracted to the 603 way of life, but also find they can also get help making the switch from military to civilian life.

“I met a lot of veterans. They move here because of family, a lot of them have never been here. They love the state motto, they hear the quality of life is good, the schools are good, and they are surprised by the support,” Heath said.

There is no veterans service hub in the state, so Easter Seals and its Veterans Count team try to be a one-stop shop for military retirees who need help. Stephanie Higgs, clinical director for Easter Seals New Hampshire Military and Veterans Services, said many veterans need services most Granite Staters need, like access to health care, mental health care, and access to affordable housing. Unfortunately, the current labor shortage is impacting the ability of veterans to get help.

“We know some of the services vets struggle with right now are the same things civilians struggle with,” Higgs said. “The demand is greater than the capacity to meet that demand right now.”

Heath said he was surprised when he started working with Fusion Cell to learn about the difficulties many veterans have when they get out of the military. The culture change is enormous, and the military services do not prepare the retirees for life on the outside.

“It’s a culture shock,” Heath said. “I’ve seen some veterans take months or a year to really get adjusted.”

Gunderson said one problem veterans face is that their military specialty rarely translates into employment qualifications in the civilian world.

“As an example, I was a medic in the Army with two deployments to Iraq and considerable experience running a clinic,” he said. “However, when I left the military I was not qualified to do anything other than possibly EMT basic.”

Fusion Cell works to connect veterans with civilian job opportunities, getting them the support they need to succeed in the world.

For the most part, New Hampshire does a good job in offering a variety of services to veterans, both Heath and Higgs said. But while there are many programs or organizations in the state to assist veterans, there is no coordinated platform to connect the overturns to the groups. Heath said the state government should step in and serve as a liaison.

“I bust my butt trying to do it every day, but we really need the state to do a better job,” Heath said.

As for the rest of New Hampshire, Heath wants Granite Staters to be good to the veterans all around.

“Be aware of the veterans are in our community, of the families who sacrificed while they were serving,” he said.

Barrington Town Official Abused Position In Bid to Shut Down Gun Biz

A Barrington town official who used his position to lobby against a local gun business is escaping consequences after months of legal wrangling and a failed lawsuit.

Town Treasurer Peter Royce used his official town email and knowledge of town procedure during his campaign to shut down 2A Tactical, a gunsmithing business run out of the Tolend Road home of Robert Russell, a veteran and former Dover police officer.

Russell has been fighting to keep his business open for more than a year, all the while under fire from Royce. The treasurer’s complaints, and the complaints he orchestrated from Russell’s neighbors, resulted in a town lawsuit against Russell alleging zoning ordinance violations. After two Zoning Board of Appeals hearings found no violations, the town agreed to drop the lawsuit this spring.

“No apology, no explanation,” Russell said. “There should never have been a lawsuit to begin with.”

Royce did not respond to an email and phone message seeking comment. He is an appointed town treasurer and is paid a $7,000 a year stipend for what are essentially part-time duties. The day-to-day financial work for the town is done by full-time staff. 

“I am extremely frustrated that 2A Tactical has qualified as a home business,” Royce wrote in one email, using his official town account, to other town officials. “I realize that this business has contributed to the police department, but I hope we can realistically examine what the situation is on Tolend Road. I believe things are pretty horrible.”

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

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

Town Administrator Conner MacIver said Royce was talked to about his email use, but it is not clear if there are any other consequences.

“He was counseled on the use of town email,” MacIver said.

Royce used his email to communicate with MacIver about the case. After prodding, MacIver at one point told Royce that people should file complaints against Russell if they have concerns.

MacIver explained Wednesday that Barrington does not actively enforce zoning violations, and instead relies on people to file complaints. According to documents, Royce sent emails to Tolend Road residents soliciting complaints against Russell. 

Select Board Chair Dan Mannschreck said no one in town is biased against Russell and his business. Many people in town, and in town government, are gun owners themselves.

“That’s not an issue as far as the town is concerned,” Mannschreck said.

Mannschreck and MacIver said the town followed the routine procedure once complaints about 2A Tactical started coming in. Russell’s original plan for a small home business blossomed into a fairly successful operation, and Royce was upset with the number of customers in the neighborhood. 

“The only goal was to put us out of business,” Russell said.

The town’s building inspector and MacIver met with Russell. He was initially given six months to find a new location for the business, ideally in a commercial zone. When that proved difficult and Russell sought an extension, the town filed the lawsuit in August of last year, according to records reviewed by NH Journal. 

Rusell took his case to the town’s ZBA, which found in his favor in October. Following an appeal, also in his favor, the town decided to drop the lawsuit this year. In the wake of that, Russell has accused town leaders of unethical behavior. Mannshreck acknowledged selectmen reviewed the town’s actions in this case, but he declined to discuss the findings. 

The board held a non-public session to discuss the matter. The minutes remain sealed. No town employee has been terminated as a result of that review, he said. Royce has been dealt with appropriately for the lobbying, according to Mannschreck.

“We told (Royce) that was inappropriate and he needed to stop that,” Mannshreck said. “Being counseled by the town administration and town attorney is a fairly serious action.”

Wreaths Across America Honors Fallen Soldiers and Keeps Their Sacrifice Alive

This December marks the 30th year that Wreaths Across American has placed wreaths on the graves of veterans in cemeteries around the country, including Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It honors those who have served our country.

Joe Regan, director of military and veteran outreach for Wreaths Across America and an army veteran, said the international organization’s mission is to remember fallen veterans,  honor the sacrifices of military members, living veterans, and their families, and teach the next generation of Americans the value of freedom and about the sacrifices that are made on their behalf every day.

On Sunday, December 12, a convoy will go from the group’s Columbia Falls, Maine headquarters to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, arriving on the 18th. That is national Wreaths Across America Day. Nearly 3,000 cemeteries will participate in wreath events. Thirty years ago the organization began with 5,000 wreaths. Now it’s up to 2 million, with an army of volunteers all over the country. Sponsorship is $15 a wreath.

The organization began as a tradition for the Worcester family. In 1992, Morrill Worcester and his wife, Karen,  found themselves with about 5,000 extra wreaths that they didn’t sell during the holiday season. Morrill thought back to when he was about 12 and had won a competition to get a trip to Washington, D.C. One thing that always stuck with him about that trip was his visit to Arlington National Cemetery and he had the idea of laying those wreaths there as a thank you to veterans.

Now with over 3,000 cemeteries in every state of the country, it has also expanded into Guam and Puerto Rico. Before COVID, it was also in Europe, honoring veterans who are buried overseas.

“And so that opportunity to lay that wreath on the headstone of that veteran, to say the name of that person, it sounds so simple,” said Regan. “But at that moment, when you say that name, and you’re standing there, it creates that connection and that bond with that veteran, and that’s tremendously powerful.”

For Regan, who has several friends who were killed overseas, it is maintaining that connection with fallen brothers. For others, it could be a complete stranger. Many veterans had no living relatives to recognize them.

“One thing I’ve heard from a couple of different places: They say that everyone dies twice. First, when your heart stops, and then there’s the last time that someone says your name,” said Regan. “Through this program, regular citizens can keep that individual’s memory alive. The visible part of what we do is the wreath-laying. But it really is a powerful expression of our commitment to living up to the legacy of those men and women who have served our country and are the ones responsible for all the amazing things that we have.”

With about 500 partnerships with individual American Legion and VFW posts across the country, volunteers and donors come together to make this event possible every year. For every two wreaths sponsored, the third wreath will help support living veterans in communities.

“And if you look at Hollywood, there are several very notable folks there who served in the United States military. And one, in particular, my great-grandfather who served in World War I was the iconic Walter Brennan, one of only a few actors who won three Academy Awards. One thing that made him distinctive was his unique voice. And I learned from my great-grandfather that he had been in several gas attacks,” said Regan.

“That was why Walter Brennan’s voice was higher pitched, a result of damage to his vocal cords because of a gas attack. A guy like Walter Brennan, who, despite being wounded, used that and it helped define his career. And he found tremendous success. So I go back to the last portion of our mission, the teaching component. We share those stories of how our veterans who are living in communities across the country continue to give back and use the skills and the experiences they had in the military, to bring back to their civilian lives and create a tremendous amount of value,” he said.

Regan encourages everyone to find a cemetery and witness the wreaths for themselves on December 18.

You can also hear the stories of our veterans on the iHeart Radio platform, where they have a Wreaths Across America radio station, not only to highlight patriotic music but information about activities, interviews with location coordinators but also issues impacting veterans.  One of the programs, “Mission Matters,” is one that Regan hosts along with co-founder and executive director Karen Worcester explains why its mission is important.

Prior to joining Wreaths Across America, Regan ran a nonprofit that focused on supporting homeless veterans and veterans with chronic mental health issues, giving them hand-ups, not handouts.

National Warrior Call Day: Shining a Light on Veteran Suicide

Veterans answered their nation’s call, and now a group of Americans are joining together to answer a cry for help from far too many of those who’ve served.

Military veterans make up roughly 10 percent of the adult population in the United States. Unfortunately, one of the most common causes of death for veterans is suicide. Increases in veteran suicide, especially during COVID, inspired the Troops First Foundation to ask Congress to declare November 21, 2021, the first annual “National Warrior Call Day.”

The movement is backed by the seven living secretaries of Veterans Affairs (VA), who wrote to Congress urging them to act.

Former VA Sec. David Shulkin, MD said, “Warrior Call Day is important to remind each of us that the sacrifices continue for the brave men and women who defend our country. We want all Americans to be aware of the responsibility to reach out and offer support to our veterans.”

U.S. Rep. Mary Scanlon (D-Pa.) supports the effort. She says the effort is only part of addressing the broader issue. Warrior Call Day’s goal is for Americans across the country to reach out to their family and friends who have served.

“One of the issues that we’ve seen over time, and you see the same thing with law enforcement, is that it’s very tough to kind of crack the nut with veterans to make sure that they get the services that are available, how to reach people, and similar to law enforcement, it’s the folks who are used to being the rescuers and not wanting to ask for help.”

Mental health issues are not uncommon in the United States, especially among military veterans. According to the VA, more than 1.7 million veterans received services for mental health issues in 2018.

Part of the issue with mental health and military veterans is the stigma that surrounds these issues. Asking for help can often be seen as a weakness for members of the Armed Forces. There is hope that Warrior Call Day will bring more attention to this problem and help break that cycle.

“I think it’s probably part of the whole de-stigmatization issue that we’re dealing with across the board with mental health issues and making sure that people check in with their loved ones and trying to get some traction that way,” Scanlon said. “Because of the escalating issues with suicide, there have been a number of different approaches, whether it’s beefing up resources, or trying to find alternative methods of service delivery, making sure that we connect people as they’re leaving the service more strongly so they don’t have to go looking as hard. I think it’s part of a whole menu of efforts to really get a handle on the problem.”

For veterans, the services and resources by federal agencies, particularly the VA, often get mixed reviews. According to a survey by Pew Research, only 46 percent of those veterans surveyed felt the VA was doing a good job. Another survey by Pew Research found 37 percent felt the VA is doing a fair job, while 15 percent felt it is doing a poor job.

One way that Congress has stepped up for veterans in the past is the Blue Water Navy Bill passed in 2019. It instructs the VA to presume that Navy veterans who served aboard ships in the open waters off the coast of Vietnam were impacted by the use of Agent Orange and should receive the appropriate medical benefits.

Scanlon says there’s a similar effort being explored for post-9/11 veterans and the burn-pits used in the Middle East. About 25 percent of veterans are already experiencing health issues from exposure to these pits.

“We do have more former-service members in Congress now than we’ve had in decades so that is helpful to have people in the mix who are first hand on some of the issues,” Scanlon added.

Former VA Sec. Robert McDonald also urges Americans of the importance of National Warrior Call Day.

“We must get Veterans connected to other Veterans and the qualified care they deserve,” McDonald said. “The Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255) plays a critically important role in this. They save lives. We know from research that if we can connect Veterans to the VA (and the Crisis Line) we can save lives. Nearly 70 percent of those who take their own lives are not connected to the VA. So, National Warrior Call Day is an opportunity to connect every Veteran to the care they need and deserve.”