Police Chief Spent Nearly $80,000 Without Board of Selectmen Approval
by Lauren Danzi
Litchfield Police Chief Joseph O’Brion spent $79,442 on items not in his budget, some without bidding and without selectmen’s approval. He said at a town Budget Committee meeting he was told to spend down his 2007 budget by Selectman George Lambert, a liaison to the Police Department.
The Board of Selectmen chose not to fill a position of prosecutor that was in the budget and when O’Brion asked his liaisons about what to do with the unused $75,000, Lambert told him to spend down the budget.
Board Chairman Ray Peeples, who was present at the budget meeting, said. “This was not something the board discussed.” Peeples added that one selectman cannot give approval. “The board should have known about this,“ he said. The expenditure was more than what could be made without bidding and town policy (bidding projects of more than $7,500) was not followed, he said.
Because the Budget Committee does not question departments directly but questions the Board of Selectmen, Peeples was questioned about the expenditures but deferred to O’Brion for an explanation.
The first hint of the dispute came when Brent Lemire, chairman of the Budget Committee, asked why the chief had spent more than $10,000 on office supplies when $2,550 had been budgeted. O’Brion spent additional money on light bulbs, letterhead, work stations, file cabinet and a $500 office chair. After Lemire discovered the deficit, O’Brion said he was told to spend down the budget. In equipment purchases alone O’Brion spent $50,319 over budget.
“I feel that this action was unconscionable, and is akin to a free-for-all spending spree at the taxpayer’s expense,” said Lemire. “The police chief has enough years of experience to have known better and the liaison from the Board of Selectmen demonstrated a complete disregard to his duties as a custodian of taxpayer funds,” Lemire said.
A sample invoice.
“This is the most irresponsible thing that has ever happened in this town,” said Budget Committee member Bill Spencer. The chief, Spencer said, should have known better because he has been in Litchfield long enough to “observe Selectman Lambert’s lack of understanding of budget issues.”
Even if the Board of Selectmen had approved the decision to spend down the Police Department budget, O’Brion disregarded town policy that any expense of $7,500 or more requires a bid process, including an open bid hearing. It also says a department cannot split a project to stay below the $7,500 limit.
The town wrote one check for $16,500 to Kustom Signals to cover four consecutive purchase orders for three cameras and a carrying case. Two of the cameras cost $4,702, the third $5,204 and the carrying case $1,892.42. When combined the cost came to $16,500, well over the $7,500 bidding threshold.
Lemire told the chief he had one large security project with three vendors. “You should have bid this project. It was one security project.”
O’Brion also spent $21,000 on software with Information Management Corporation. O’Brion told the Budget Committee this was part of enhanced department security. There was no purchase order number for the purchase for three types of software, each $5,000. The order included the price of three training days for the new software totaling $3,000, $750 for software installation and $2,250 in annual maintenance.
At the Budget Committee meeting O’Brion said he had budgeted an additional $1,800 in telephone expenses for officers in cruisers to communicate with the station using the new software.
Lemire said that although the department was within its bottom line, it spent money that was not approved and that such expenses should have gone back to the taxpayers.
When questioned further if he knew that one selectman could not give approval, O’Brion responded, “I asked the question twice!” O’Brion said he believed Lambert was speaking for the entire board and that other departments also were told to spend down their budgets.
Budget Committee member John Harte questioned if this had happened in any other department but Peeples felt it did not. Peeples noted that the Cable Committee bought some equipment in 2007 and removed that expense from its 2008 budget.
At Tuesday’s Budget Committee meeting the issue was brought up again, this time with Lambert and several members of the public in attendance. Lemire started the discussion by saying, “This situation we felt collectively was highly unusual and irregular.”
“I just want the public to be assured that it wasn’t a frivolous spending,” said O’Brion. He explained that MRI found some deficiencies in department security and MRI suggested those purchases. But O’Brion’s statement was disputed and disregarded after further discussion and disclosure that MRI had been contacted to verify the chief’s statement.
Although Lambert said emphatically that MRI was asked for an early summary to help make decisions based on the next year’s budget, he admitted that when selectmen asked to see the MRI summary in writing he did not get anything in writing from MRI.
Lemire then said he knew the owner of MRI and that MRI did exemplary work. Lemire said he had called MRI and was told MRI made no recommendations and would not do so until its report was final. Lemire noted that the report was not yet completed.
Peeples confirmed that the report was not final and said MRI told selectmen not to do anything until the final report. He felt it made no sense to spend money on anything before officially receiving the final report.
Lemire then said MRI should be kept out of the discussion because it had not yet made recommendations. Additionally, Lemire said MRI only recommends what to buy not when or how to buy. “I have no interest in putting blame out there,” he said, adding he wanted the public to know that his committee will be a good custodian of taxpayer money and that the Police Department incident does not show that to the taxpayers.
Lemire moved the discussion on the 2008 budget for the Police Department. He asked to amend the budget from $1,132,690 to $988,210 to remove money for cruisers the department got last year, but includes the chief’s pay raise, a larger dispatching contract and assumes the department is at full staff, which now it is not. It also eliminates money for the prosecutor’s position not filled this year and funds for a replacement cruiser.
O’Brion said if the cruiser is cut, he suggested additional money for expected repairs to the cruiser, which has been driven nearly 100,000 miles. The amendment passed 6 to 2.
Spencer proposed to cut two unfilled positions ($20,000 for a special officer and $20,000 for a lieutenant) and put that money into the selectmen’s contingency fund. The money in the contingency fund would give selectmen control of the funds, Spencer said. “If the chief needs the money, selectmen can return it to his budget from contingency, but it will prevent another spending spree at the end of next year.” Spencer said he would be more comfortable if selectmen controlled the money because of his lack of confidence in the chief
The School Board representative to the Budget Committee, Dennis Miller, was outspoken on the lack of a full-time school resource officer. After he explained the situation, there was concern among the committee that this money would affect the school officer and felt that that position was important. There was a tie vote on Spencer’s amendment and the budget stood at $988,210.
Alvirne High School Master Plan Under Review
by Doug Robinson and Lynne Ober
Approximately a year ago, the Hudson School Board contracted the services of Team Design Inc., Londonderry, in an effort to analyze the 200 plus acres of land associated with Alvirne High School and determine how the High School can maximize the usage of the land. This work was done as part of the school district’s ten year Master Plan.
The 200 acres of land was donated to the Town of Hudson by the Hills family and are separated by Route 102.
Alvirne High School, having suffered the affects of a devastating fire in 1974, was re-built and has remained basically unchanged with the exception of the addition of the regional vocational technical school. The Wilbur H. Palmer Vocational Center was added to the existing high school and has offered thousands of students state of the art, hands on experiences, as they learn their trades.
Today, Alvirne High School, including athletic fields, tennis courts, parking, and the Alvirne Farm, resides on the west side of Derry Road, upon 110 acres of land.
The additional acreage is on the east side of Derry Road, directly across from the high school. What are today two parcels of land separated by a state highway was originally the summer home of Dr. Alfred K. Hills and his wife Virginia. The Hills House, the original summer home, sits on this property. The Alvirne Tree Farm is also on this property and is tended by Alvirne’s forestry students. Today, the Hills house serves as an important historical marker to Hudson’s historical past, as well as serving as the headquarters to the Hudson Historical Society. The house was built on land which totals over 100 acres as well.
“We have an extraordinarily large amount of land for a high school,” stated Hudson School Superintendent, Randy Bell. “We wanted to look to the future needs of our high school, its facilities, its programs, and we wanted to look at the quality of the land as well as the potential for future land development.”
Team Design, who has previously done work at Alvirne, produced two Alvirne High School Master Options, A and B, for the School Board to review. According to Hudson School Board Chairman David Alukonis, “Team Design, the board’s consultant on this project, has listened to many different groups and individuals to identify numerous possible future needs and uses of the property.”
Bell noted that Team Design did a number of proposals for land use, and the School Board narrowed the proposals down to two options. Both options have consideration for and auditorium and arts center, improved gymnasium facilities, an increase of athletic fields, possible expansion of the Wilbur H. Palmer Vocational Center, as well as preserve the land for the farming and forestry programs.
“The Alvirne Master Plan is one of the more important tasks that the School Board and its administration have undertaken to accomplish,” said Alukonis. “Hudson has a significant and valuable asset in the 200 plus acres and associated buildings (and uses) that form the Alvirne High School property. It is clear that in the future, certain improvements will need to be added to the high school. At the current time, building security, administrative offices, building access, and accessibility for the handicapped are all in need of significant improvement. To address any one of these current needs, without looking at what may come in the long term—ten to twenty years from now—would not be prudent stewardship of the land or buildings that make up Alvirne. The future use of any large parcel of property needs significant and insightful planning—witnesses the efforts being made for the Green Meadow Golf Course Property.”
The major difference between the two options is the location of the various buildings. Whereas Option A places the Auditorium, Music and Arts Center (with additional parking) on the east side of Derry Road, Option B suggests that additional parking be placed on the east side of Derry Road. Both options suggest that an underground tunnel be constructed to connect the high school with the east side of Derry Road.
Option A also suggests the construction of a new gymnasium to the south side of the present cafeteria. Option B suggests the building of the auditorium to the south side of the present cafeteria and the building of a new gymnasium where the present tennis courts are located. The tennis courts would be moved onto the Alvirne Farm.
Options A and B also identify future expansion and renovation areas to the Wilbur H. Palmer Vocational Center.
“These are very long term plans and they lay out what will be the future of the high school,” stated Superintendent Bell. “The options are conceptual in design and allow us to have strong dialogue as we continue our fact findings. We are looking out five to ten years and our programs are driving our needs. We are looking at land use, programming, our farming, forestry, and our needs to for an auditorium. We also recognize the need for more athletic fields. We intend to continue to have dialogue with teachers, administrators, business leaders, Hudson Chamber of Commerce, as well as conducting several public forums, in our effort to learn the feelings and interests of the entire community.”
“The master plan does not call for a construction program, nor a time line for when things should be built,” stated Alukonis. “Rather, it will, when complete, illustrate how, where and in what sequence improvements and additional facilities should be made in a concerted, efficient, and sensible manner. This will allow for the best use of the property and tax dollars. While it is easy to focus on the big components of the master plan options, such as the performing arts facility (auditorium), the plans also take into consideration issues such as current locations and capacity of utilities (water, sewer, natural gas, electricity) and how and where they could be expanded in the future. The plans also look at traffic flow through the property, identifying additional access points to our athletic fields and other areas distant from Derry Road. Such possible access points could be used for emergency access. These areas of additional access to the property could also provide additional points of connection to utilities.”
“Soon, the board will hold public hearings on the two plans and will then decide what the final plan will look like,” concluded Alukonis. “The School Board is looking forward to receiving as much comment as possible prior to the adoption of the final plan. Any group interested in having a presentation on the plan should contact the Superintendent’s office.”
New Town Database System
by Tom Tollefosn
Selectmen Ken Massey and Shawn Jasper with the “retired” vax
After a three year transition, the Town of Hudson is starting off the New Year with a new database system. The windows based munismart database software, made by Munismart, has replaced the nearly 20 year old vax system.
On Friday, January 4, selectmen Shawn Jasper and Ken Massey joined IT Director Lisa Nute, Finance Director Kathy Carpentier, and IT Specialist John Beike in officially “unplugging” the nearly 20 year old vax database system, built by the company formerly known as Digital.
According to Hudson Town Ordinance, the now “retired” vax has to go to town auction, unless the Board of Selectmen determine otherwise. The Board’s alternatives would be selling, recycling, or donating the vax. Nute stated that the database will be thoroughly cleaned before any definite decision is made for the system.
The Munismart system has been pieced together over the last few years by purchasing new modules every year. In the last year, modules for welfare and fixed assets were purchased for $1,000.
The following New Hampshire towns also use Munismart for their town database:
- New Market
“Every year we buy more modules,” Carpentier said.
According to Carpentier and the IT Department, the advantages of Munismart are the following:
- User friendly
- Better Reporting
- Faster for users
“I think it’s going to suit the needs of the community well into the future,” Carpentier said.
Any of the town employees involved in the process of transferring all the files on the town’s data base will agree that it was not fast or easy.
“There’s no way we could have made a transfer in a few months. It was a planned transfer over two years,” Beike said.
The process of transferring files to munismart began in July of 2005 with General Ledger and Accounts Payable being the first to be put into the new system. Since that time, all town departments have transferred their files to the munismart system.
Sewer and building permits were the last major modules transferred in the fall of 2007.
The last files to come off the vax were capital assets and agency fees, which have been put into spread sheets instead of being transferred to munismart.
“There were still a fewer modules to be transferred in the last month,” IT Specialist Vince Guarino.