Magical Laughter

by Lynne Ober

“Hey, it’s your trick,” said Hannah.  “I don’t know why it’s not working for you.”

This summer, libraries across our state have been holding a variety of entertainment shows.  While the same entertainer often visits libraries in the area, the show is often different.

When Mr. Phil was at the Litchfield library, he presented his balloon show.  When he did a show last Wednesday in Hudson, he presented magical mayhem.

Mr. Phil and Company is a New Hampshire-based family entertainment company featuring Mr. Phil and specializing in comedy magic and balloon twisting.  Last Wednesday, nearly 150 people saw his special brand of audience-participating magic.  Giggles filled the air with his antics.

Mr. Phil’s show was definitely the place to be as parents and kids spread blankets on the grassy hillside behind the library’s house at 49 Ferry Street.  Mr. Phil quickly made the audience laugh and roll their eyes with his antics.  When he called for help from the audience, hands waved – each one belonging to someone who wanted to take part in the happy antics.

One of the entertaining aspects of Mr. Phil’s show was his ability to interact with the audience and adapt his presentation to questions from the audience and to responses made by his helpers who had been chosen from the audience. 

“Want to see a motorcycle disappear?”  Mr. Phil asked his enthusiastic audience.  When they shouted ‘yes’, he went one step farther.  “Want me to teach you how to make a motorcycle disappear?”  When the response was a rousing, enthusiastic ‘yes’, he taught the audience how to make magic.

One of his talents is a wonderful way to connect with his audience and use comedy to extend his magical abilities.  For all of his tricks, he builds a mental picture with his patter before starting the trick. 

“Let’s pretend that we will stop at an oasis in the desert.  Who knows what an oasis is?”  With that bit of opening for his audience to jump in and become part of the act, Mr. Phil builds and builds and builds.  While chattering with the audience, his hands continue to perform amazing tricks.  Laughter constantly fills the air.

Wednesday’s show was dubbed “Miles of Smiles”, and it certainly lived up to his billing.  No one could stay grumpy as Mr. Phil worked his magic.

During one sketch he pulled Hannah, 9, from the audience to help him. 

“Do you like mustard or ketchup,” he playfully asked as he waved two condiment bottles in the air.  Hannah let him pick her favorite.  Then, he taught her a trick – one that they were going to do in partnership, but, to no one’s surprise, Mr. Phil’s half of the trick just wasn’t working, no matter what he did.  Hannah, however, looked like a magician extraordinaire.  The audience giggled as Mr. Phil struggled to be able to do what Hannah could easily do.  Hannah finally pointed out to him that it was “his trick” and what was the problem – making the audience laugh even harder.

It was a wonderful way to spend an hour, and people left happy and relaxed.

Mr. Phil has been a full-time performer for three years, but has been a children’s performer for about 25 years now.  He has performed at daycares, libraries, and schools doing magic shows, not to mention birthdays, fairs and festivals, and restaurants doing magic and balloons.  He has the honor of being a granted “Kids, Books, and the Arts” artist in New Hampshire for an unprecedented three years running.  In addition to his training in the performance arts, he has a background in education, and it shows in the way that he can reach the kids in the audience.  All these things add up to a professional children’s entertainer who loves making kids laugh and amazing them with magic.

There was a large audience for Mr. Phil’s show.

Big Change for Litchfield Selectmen’s Office

by Lynne Ober

Cecile at Town Deliberative Session

Cecile Derocher, the Town of Litchfield’s Administrative Assistant, has announced her retirement.  According to Board of Selectmen Raymond Peeples, Cecile will retire on September 30 this year. 

“I’ve had mixed feelings about that date,” admitted Peeples, who noted that for the past 43 years, budget preparation for the town had been done by Cecile.  “I’ve been sitting in her office with a puppy dog face.”

When Peeples announced her retirement, he said that she’d been around for “43 different Boards of Selectmen.  We wish her well in her endeavors and thank her for all that she’s done over the years.”

Cecile said that she’d worked with 37 or 38 different selectmen over the years.

When Selectman Al Raccio said that the board would be challenged to prepare their budgets this year without any “adult supervision,” both the board and members of the audience laughed.

At the end of Peeples’s announcement about the retirement, both the board and the people in the audience gave Cecile a rousing round of applause. 

No Badge, No Gun and No Cruiser

by Len Lathrop

When Litchfield Police Chief Joe O’Brion told a Hudson Selectman that he had no badge, no gun, and no car for three weeks, questions began to surface.  What did that statement mean?  When the Hudson~Litchfield News asked Board of Selectmen Chairman Raymond Peeples if he could confirm or deny that Chief O’Brion had been suspended, Peeples replied, “No comment.”  When the paper told Peeples what O’Brion had reportedly said to a Hudson Selectman, Peeples responded, “The Chief can talk about his situation.  I have no comment.”

Peeples was then asked who the current officer in charge was at the Litchfield Police Station.  Peeples responded, “The acting officer is Lieutenant Gerard A. Millette.” It was later learned that Millette had been running the department since July 27.

When the Hudson~Litchfield News asked Peeples if officers who went on vacation, whether it be one day or four weeks, kept their weapons and their badges, Peeples acknowledged that they did keep their badges and weapons. When this publication further queried Peeples about Chief O’Brion’s comments to a Hudson Selectman that he had no gun, no badge, and no car, Peeples said that O’Brion was free to comment about his status.  Beyond that, Peeples said he could not comment. 

Selectman Peeples was then questioned if Selectmen had met with the Chief to discuss paperwork given by the Chief to a Hudson~Litchfield News reporter and then demanded it to be returned. That latest incident may surround documents that Chief O’Brion gave to our reporter for a story that the individual and a second reporter were following.  The story was on an on-going Superior Court case that was scheduled for another hearing the week the HLN ran the story.  Chief O’Brion did provide written documentation to one of the two reporters co-authoring the story.  Then, several hours later, he called and e-mailed that reporter saying that the documentation could not be used because it was confidential.  In this case, one of the people interviewed eventually reported the issue to Selectmen, who requested and were given copies of the documentation.  This documentation was reviewed by Town Counsel, who then took a deposition from the reporter.

Peeples said that he could not comment at any time on any topic that was or was not done in non-public session. 

“It’s the law that personnel matters be handled in non-public and that elected officials not release topics of those meetings or discussions held at those meetings.  We meet with all of our department heads in non-public for personnel matters, but we do not discuss the topics or the dates of the meetings,” said Peeples.

The Hudson~Litchfield News’ last question was the whereabouts of the police cruiser that Chief O’Brion normally drives back and forth to work.  Peeples said that he believed the cruiser was currently parked at the Litchfield Police Station, and didn’t believe that anyone was driving it.

Selectmen held two lengthy non-public meetings after the deposition was taken.  At the first one, the regular meeting was delayed until past 9 p.m.  O’Brion and his attorney Andru Volinsky were called in and out of that meeting.  The second non-public meeting was held the following Thursday, and O’Brion has been absent from the Police Department since that meeting.

At the Monday, August 6, Selectmen’s meeting, Carol Bessette, a Litchfield Police Department Secretary/Dispatcher, questioned the board about O’Brion’s on-going absence during public input.  She wanted to know where her “boss” was.  She also challenged the board about calling the police department by saying, “It seems like when we had a Chief you guys were calling every day.”

When Peeples said that it was against the law for him to reveal actions taken during non-public meetings, Bessette asked if she met with the board in non-public, would they would tell her. 

“Carol, you know the law prohibits me from revealing personnel matters handled in non-public,” said Peeples.

Project 54 Goes Forward in Litchfield

by Lynne Ober

Car 54, Where Are You? was an old TV series that provided the name for the project that installs the latest technology into police cruisers.

Litchfield Police Chief Joe O’Brion first brought this program to selectmen and told them that Litchfield was eligible for a grant to install this equipment.  Selectmen had a number of questions, which they provided to the chief, and they asked him to come back as they prepared to have the required public hearing needed to accept grant monies.

While that public hearing was appropriately scheduled and advertised, it turned out that it was not needed.  The project does not provide grant funding.  It does provide a “gift” of installed equipment for police departments.  “The Department of Justice provides the money.  UNH and the New Hampshire Department of Safety oversee the program, and it’s not a grant as we thought.  It is an outright gift to towns,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Raymond Peeples.

With O’Brion currently out of the office, Peeples and Selectman Al Raccio visited UNH (University of New Hampshire) to see the cars, installation, and learn about the process.  They prepared a PowerPoint presentation about the project, which was shown on TV, and noted that they wanted to see the project move forward.  With the public hearing scheduled, Peeples noted that he felt it imperative to keep working on a project that he knew the chief wanted to pursue.  “Now that we know it is a gift, and not a grant, the public hearing is not necessary, but we have it scheduled for this evening and decided to go forward.”

There are currently around 850 police cars with the equipment installed.  More than 100 of those vehicles are for out of state forces.

At the top of the list of questions was ongoing officer safety.  “What happens if the cruiser is in an accident and the air bag deploys?  We wanted to know if such a deployment might hurl any equipment through the air or dislodge any equipment that was installed,” stated Peeples.  Staff at UNH said that officer safety was one of their highest concerns.  The equipment was installed so that it could not be dislodged by deploying air bags.

Additional safety features for officers are also included.  Officers will not need to remove their hands from the wheel to perform most functions, such as turning on lights, radar, and radio.  Instead there is a button on the steering wheel that is pressed and then a verbal command is given. 

Built-in GPS systems can be used to guide other first responders to an emergency scene.  So an officer who arrives and needs to immediately help at the scene will not have to be directing other responders via radio.

Today’s cruisers are equipped with digital radios, GPS units, computers, radars, lights, sirens, and other integrated tools.  Dispatch centers have become computerized, and officers on the beat and in offices have access to a variety of databases on a daily basis.  Project 54 brings more of that technology together in an integrated fashion while building in a number of safety features.  As Raccio explained, an officer who pushed the button on the steering wheel, and then needed to talk on the radio before issuing his verbal command, does not need to be concerned that what he says on the radio will affect the operation of the car or equipment.

Much of the equipment in today’s cruisers is manufactured by a variety of companies, and products are not necessarily made to be integrated together.  One of the project’s purposes is to ensure that different types of products can be used in a collaborative and integrated manner.  Both Peeples and Raccio talked about the work being done by faculty and students in the UNH CAT (Consolidated Advanced Technologies) Lab. 

Peeples and Raccio had the opportunity to examine a state police vehicle that was fully equipped.  “While that car had more equipment than what our cruisers will have, you could see how useful the equipment will be to an officer in the field.”

“The integrated Project 54 system allows officers to interact with equipment — such as lights and siren, radar, etc. — using speech input and feedback,” said Peeples.  “The Project 54 system also integrates police cruisers into statewide data networks.  The system integration efforts include work on integrating the radio systems of multiple agencies.  Law enforcement, emergency, and other state and federal agencies have radio systems, but they are often not able talk to each other directly.  Project 54 is creating an Internet-based system that will allow these agencies to use their current radio equipment and have access to other agencies’ radio links.”

One of the unanswered questions to O’Brion involved how to maintain the equipment once installed.  Peeples said that the Project 54 group will continue to work on system software and adding additional classes of hardware, as well as fixing reported problems.  Information on such work will posted on the Project 54 Website and transmitted to our authorized installers.

One of the remaining issues is that the installer preferred by Chief O’Brion is not certified to install the equipment. A requirement of the project is that a certified/authorized installer be used to install and maintain the equipment.  “We were told that our installer could get certified and that the Project 54 team does the training for any installer who wishes to be certified, but we must use a certified installer,” said Peeples.

Another question was about brands of police cruisers that could accept the equipment.  “We were really pleased with how flexible the Project 54 staff is and the depth of research that they do,” noted Peeples.  “Almost any car can support the Project 54 system, since it utilizes standards and uses already available police components it fits in most cars.  To date it has been installed in Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford cars and trucks.”

Peeples and Raccio asked about moving equipment from car to car.  “As our cruisers age, we’d want to be able to move the equipment to the new cruisers.  Because the system is modular, and generally most components are contained in a console between the seats, it is relatively easy to move.  Most installers are trained to use ‘quick-disconnect’ type connectors, so the console can be moved and reinstalled quickly.  It takes an installer about the same time to reinstall our system as it does to move a light bar system.”

Right now Project 54 cars are using Panasonic Toughbook laptops.  “The Project 54 system requires a Windows 2000 capable computer that should have a touch screen and either a serial or USB port,” said Peeples.  “So, almost any laptop will work as a Project 54 system.” 

Peeples also talked about the next model computer that will be used.  “They showed us a computer that was the size of two decks of cards.  This will be the next generation, and they are testing is now.  By using such a small computer, more cockpit space in the cruisers will be open and available.”

Peeples asked the board for a motion to accept this gift and explained that police departments in New Hampshire get Project 54 materials, software, hardware, and training for free so there is no cost to the taxpayer.  Selectman George Lambert moved to accept the Project 54 gift, and the motion passed unanimously. 

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