Mrs. Abbott’s first grade class, of Nottingham West School in Hudson, enjoyed watching their five
butterflies grow. They released them on May 30. All of the students took great care in “not touching the wings.”
Laurie Scafidi uses a few dashes of paint to turn Sabrina Quealy, 9, into a Dalmatian puppy.
With the sounds of children playing and the smell of barbeque thick in the air, it is a sure thing that summer is on its way. Taking advantage of the nice weather, the Litchfield girls’ softball league hosted a Family Fun Day at Darrah Pond on Saturday. The festivities began at 9 a.m. and ran until three in the afternoon.
The event included an inflatable bounce house and obstacle course, a cakewalk, raffles, face painting, and various carnival games. Meteorologists had predicted thunderstorms for the whole weekend, causing the coordinators to consider canceling the day’s plans. However, skies remained precipitation-free, though overcast.
Parents relaxed in the shade while their youngsters had a blast. Litchfield’s seventeen girls’ softball teams hit the fields for a day of games. Regardless of who won or lost, girls on all teams mixed when it came to checking out the carnival games. The softball toss appeared to be a real hit as kids cashed in their tickets to toss three balls through holes in a wooden softball cutout.
Next to the softball toss was a kiddie pool set up for duck fishing. Blindfolded fishers retrieved three numbered rubber ducks from the “pond” and won a prize if the two of their ducks had the same number. Would-be quarterbacks had their chance to test their aim at the football toss.
From 1 to 2 p.m. the Litchfield Police were on scene with a radar gun. Any Roger Clemens wannabes could find out their ball pitching speed.
A Litchfield softball player tries her luck at the ball toss game.
Fun with tickets was not limited only to the kids. Parents could use theirs to enter raffles. Prizes included a basket of Pampered Chef goodies, plants, a bike, and a huge Super Soaker package, although the last item seemed intended for kids or just the young at heart.
The masterminds behind the annual event were Laurie Scafidi, Marilyn Soraghan, Barb DesRoches, Dawn Cataldo, and Marion Simoneau. Laurie Scafidi took her artistic talents to the face-painting table, turning little tykes into cute creatures, and adding butterflies and ladybugs to softball players.
Bugaboo Creek restaurant provided hearty BBQ ribs for sale, fresh off the grill; they also supplied the music. At one point in the day, the announcer declared that there had been a high number of requests for the song “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Players from various softball teams mixed on the field to dance the “Cotton-Eyed Joe” jig. When the song ended, parents were welcomed to perform the dance themselves. However, all declined the offer.
All the money raised by the event went toward the Litchfield Girls Softball League Scholarship Fund. The final amount has not yet been released. Simoneau credited all the families and volunteers for making it the best year ever. It took the work of over twenty friends and family members of the softball players to make the event come together.
“In the four years we have offered LGSL scholarships, we have been fortunate enough to award every applicant a scholarship - over $9,000 in total,” Simoneau said. “Last year LGSL awarded three scholarships to deserving LGSL graduating seniors.”
The day turned out to be a spectacular success. The woman selling tickets said she began with about a thousand tickets. By 10 a.m. she had already begun on a new roll of tickets.
“The event was a huge success and a great time was had by all,” Simoneau said. “Next year we will do it again and try to make it even bigger than this year.”
A White Lightning softball player takes a swing during the Family Fun Day softball games.
Selectman Al Raccio listened as Town Attorney instructed the State Policeman on the procedure for the records review.
While turmoil continues to swirl throughout Litchfield, and residents wonder if it will ever end, Litchfield Police Corporal David Donnelly met with selectmen after the records review to express the union’s position, but also to say that he looked forward to a good working relationship with selectmen.
At issue was the way selectmen decided to prepare for the upcoming union contract negotiations. Many towns are staffed with personnel managers, town managers, tax assessors, and other staff who support the Town and who work with Selectmen. Not so in Litchfield. There is no town manager. There is no personnel manager nor a tax assessor nor a town planner – just the Executive Assistant to Selectmen, who must also handle many of the other roles often handled by several employees in other towns.
With contract negotiations looming for police officers, selectmen are left to gather their own data and develop their own negotiation metrics. Toward that end, at the last selectmen’s meeting, they voted to authorize Selectman Al Raccio to collect the data, using the personnel files that, by union contract, are open to employers. These files do not contain background checks or information about each officer’s psychological evaluation. They do contain data needed to develop a negotiating strategy.
Prior to voting for the review, selectmen had received a legal opinion from Town Counsel that such a review was legal and authorized. Raccio had also reviewed the contract and found that the data he was going to review was also open to the officers themselves, per the union contract.
Although Police Chief Joe O’Brion had stated publicly that he could not comment on the review because he’s not a member of AFSCME Council 93, his ally, Selectman George Lambert, let the cat out of the bag that the Chief was an active participant in trying to stop the review.
O’Brion drove Lambert to the Local Government Center to try to find a way to stop the review.
Lambert had not attended the meeting where the review vote was taken because he was out of the state. The vote at that meeting had been 3 – 1 – 0. Had Lambert attended and voted no, the vote would have been 3 – 2 – 0 and the motion still would have passed.
After spending time with O’Brion at the Government Center, Lambert felt that they had found a way to overturn the records review, and took the steps to make sure that happened.
During the Memorial Day parade Selectmen Raymond Peeples, Al Raccio, Andrew Santom and George Lambert walked together, but shortly after the parade ended, Peeples and Lambert were having an obviously disagreeable discussion in full view of the public.
According to Peeples, who is the Chairman, Lambert told him that he (Lambert) had posted a non-public emergency meeting. At this week’s selectmen’s meeting Lambert said he had wanted to post a public meeting. Lambert also told Peeples on Memorial Day that he didn’t need to ask the Chair to hold a meeting as long as two other Selectmen agreed with him. Lambert said that he had the concurrence of two other selectmen (Jewett and Santom) and that the emergency non-public meeting would be held.
Lambert was also the instigator of the previously held illegal non-public meeting. This one was held while Peeples was out of state and Selectman Pat Jewett was presiding.
But with Peeples home, things did not go the way Lambert planned. Peeples knew the legal situation and informed the other selectmen of the provisions of the Right to Know Law, which states that a meeting may not be posted on a Sunday or a legal holiday. It is also explicitly stated in law that only the chairman may call an emergency meeting.
Peeples took the additional step of consulting with Town Counsel on Tuesday to see if the situation would constitute an emergency meeting and reported, “Nothing had changed that could be construed as an emergency. We had an open, public discussion of the need for data for the negotiations. We had a legal vote. For Lambert to want to then have a non-public meeting to rehash what had been an open public meeting was a direct violation of the law and I took steps to stop that. We must follow the law.”
State law specifically states, “An emergency shall mean a situation where immediate undelayed action is deemed to be imperative by the chairman or presiding officer of the body or agency who shall employ whatever means are available to inform the public that a meeting is to be held.”
“Rehashing a vote taken in a previous public meeting is simply not an emergency,” said Peeples. “Re-hashing it in a non-public session does not meet the requirements for RSA 91A. We need to follow that law.”
Although the non-public meeting notice remained posted at Town Hall on Tuesday, May 29, the meeting was not held. Peeples said that he contacted the other selectmen on Memorial Day and informed them of the requirements of state law.
“We just didn’t need to hold a second illegal meeting,” said Peeples. “The people of this town have a right to expect that their selectmen will follow the law and will not act as though they are above the law. I just don’t know what got into George.”
However, when Raccio showed up to review the records this week, he was met with loud, angry words from a dispatcher, and at least one part-time officer while the Chief stood by and watched. Raccio decided to leave rather than attempt to work in such a hostile environment.
Two days later Raccio returned with the protection of a uniformed State Police Officer and Attorney David Lefebvre.
“I would like to think that the angry words from the first meeting were because people did not understand,” said Raccio. “I focused solely on employment records as they relate to the terms of the current union contract. The officer really served two functions. One was to ensure that the records were handled appropriately.”
Raccio said that during the second meeting he also spent some time with the Union Shop Steward, Corporal David Donnelly. “I wanted to explain what the union contract said about records review and again state that I was only there to look at a piece of each officer’s file.” Raccio further explained that the psychological profile and background check parts of the file remained in the file cabinet and that he did not have access to them.
“What’s in there that they’re trying to hide?” wondered Peeples, who said that he felt that when the Chief and his staff react the way they did, it was puzzling. “Why would they not want us to look? Managers always have access to their staff’s personnel files. This is nothing new.”
Raccio said that when he completed his review, he turned the records over to the Chief before he and the State Police Officer departed the building. “At no time were those records unprotected. I thanked the Chief for his cooperation.”
Donnelly came to the meeting after the records review to express his dismay at the review. Like Lambert, he too had been out of state. By the time he got back and reviewed the situation, it was past Memorial Day and the records review had begun. He did write a letter at that time to selectmen asking to speak with them, but they did not read his letter into the record at the past Monday night meeting.
Donnelly summed up the fears and discussed the lack of communication. This lead Peeples to ask O’Brion, who had attended the selectmen’s meeting where the discussion ensued and finally the vote was taken, what he told his men. Apparently the message was not fully reported to his men about the reason for the review, which parts of the records would be reviewed and which would not be reviewed. When asked if he (O’Brion) had told his men what was going to be reviewed and why, O’Brion snapped back that he only got a three-line memo from selectmen. He did not address why he did not disseminate what he had heard at the selectmen’s meeting.
Donnelly used an example of how he communicates with someone he arrests to make the incident as calming as possible, and noted that such communication would have been helpful because the men were uncertain if their medical records were included, if social security numbers would be mishandled or if any other confidential information would be copied and taken away.
Raccio offered the spreadsheet that he used which was a check-off sheet to see if the 35 articles called for in the union contract had been appropriately placed in each personnel jacket. No names or identifying information was collected. Raccio offered both Donnelly and Officer Steve Harris an opportunity to review the spreadsheet.
Peeples pointed out that Raccio holds a Top Secret Security Clearance and is probably the most security conscious member on the board.
Peeples did address allegations that he’s heard about him being anti-police. “That is not true. Every time we ask something of the police department, we meet with opposition. You don’t communicate with the board. You’ve walked right by me and never said hello. I’m pro-town and I want what is good for all the town.”
Donnelly asked Peeples about his statement, made in the papers, that Peeples felt the police had something to hide.
Peeples said that was based on the strong opposition that came from the police department with every request and cited a number of examples to support his statement. Peeples noted that when other departments are asked to do something, they do not object or drive selectmen to the Local Government Center to stop an action. “They work with us. I want the police to start working with us instead of finding reasons why they can’t and making phone calls to people to try to get out of every request.”
Donnelly commented that the police currently had bruised feelings and egos and he hoped that working relationships could get better. He twice thanked selectmen for allowing him to come speak with them and share the issues of union members.
At the end of the discussion with Donnelly, he said, “Hopefully we are able to have a good working relationship with the board. It’s always been a good working relationship.”
Only a few citizens showed up at the Hudson Town Hall for Shaping Our Future: Nashua Region 2030. The event was designed for Hudson residents to share their strategies for making the town’s future a positive one. Those who did arrive talked eagerly of their views on such issues as transportation, recycling, and waste management.
Six booths displayed information and graphics for each of the issues citizens said were most important. These issues were Transportation, Community Infrastructure, Higher Education, Regional Cooperation and Funding, Energy and Green Building, and Water Resources.
Transportation ideas included the possibility of a train system extending from Manchester to Lowell with a stop in Southern Nashua to help lighten the load of commuters traveling Route 3 and Interstate 93. Opinions on the proposed rail line were all over the board, but most everyone agreed that updating the current train tracks would be too expensive. Still, the morning commute to Boston is a daunting two hours.
Another big issue was quite an odiferous one. The cost of waste removal in the area is rising with the population boom. With the rapid rate at which electronics become obsolete, computers and other technology gadgets are posing a huge threat to the environment. Glass computer screens and plastic keyboards do not decompose the way that food and paper waste does, resulting in an unmoving mountain of junk.
Surveys at each booth asked for residents’ opinions of some suggested solutions. The environmental waste survey suggested recycling as an option. One question even asked about making recycling mandatory.
Hudson’s Selectmen Richard Maddox, stood out as a passionate voice in advocating positive changes that would not limit the freedoms of citizens. On the idea of mandatory recycling, he stood opposed, preferring that people choose to recycle after learning how much money the small action would save them.
However, not everyone can see how recycling will help them directly. When nearby Manchester signed a new recycling contract in December 2005, it cost the city about $1.6 million in its first year. Nearly two years later, only about 17 – 20 percent of Manchester residents recycle. With no tangible incentive, few people are willing to make the extra effort. Still, Maddox said incentives for recycling in Hudson would be a mess.
“That would be a real logistical nightmare,” Maddox said, estimating the number of residences at roughly nine thousand.
Still, he supports the idea of recycling and making environmentally friendly changes.
“Every way that we save money over the long run and save the environment is good,” Maddox concluded.
With six public grade schools and a population of about twenty-five thousand people, Hudson stands out for its lack of a university. Every year, many of the schools’ graduates migrate from New Hampshire in search of higher education. The Nashua Regional Planning Commission has proposed building a town university. Maddox approves of the idea but points out the primary issue of concern.
“It would be great for Hudson if there was a university,” Maddox said. “The biggest problem is ‘How do you fund it?’.”
Unfortunately, no one has stepped up to answer that question with a satisfactory answer. With only a small number of people in attendance, only a small number of opinions were represented. Maddox said people had more immediate issues on their minds, like their jobs and families, than to care about the region’s future. With impending graduations and summer plans, most people did not take the time to think about the town.
“Most citizens are just not interested,” Maddox said.