Hundreds Turn Out to Enjoy the Jake Laliberete Memorial Fishing Derby

by Doug Robinson

Darren, native of Windham, is only one more pull away from bringing in his “catch,” a small mouth bass, out of the frozen waters. Fortunately for the bass, it got away.

The frozen waters of Cobbetts Pond were scattered with ice fishing houses, motorized augers, fishing holes, motorized vehicles, and friends being with friends as they came together to participate in the 2nd annual Jake Laliberete Memorial Fishing Derby.

Sponsored by Debbie Mackenzie Realty and Associates, of Windham, moms, dads, children, and friends came together to spend the day eating, drinking, sharing memories, and also to do some fishing.  The fishing derby was open to all age groups and prizes were awarded from the donated proceeds.  The entry fee covered the costs of food and prizes, as well as a T-shirt.  All additional proceeds over and above the costs of the food and T-shirts were donated to the Shepard’s Pantry, located at the Windham Presbyterian Church.

“Jake, in 2003, was hit by a drunken driver while walking along the side of the road in Windham,” commented his mother, Mo.  “He was paralyzed as a result of the accident and he later died in 2006.  He loved to swim and fish on this lake, and this fishing derby is just our way of remembering Jake.  We have set up a purple tip-up in his memory.”

“This event brings our town together,” commented Debbie Mackenzie.  “It is a great winter activity and we have a lot of fun.”

Driving their ATV across the ice, 6-year-old Joey Pallaria and 8-year-old JP Pallaria, of Windham, visit and play with many of their neighbors and friends while having fun during the fishing derby.

Parents Speak Out in Favor of Dress Code

by Lynne Ober

Mike Oxner presents the petition and tries to read his statement

The brouhaha that began with Pelham School Board member Linda Mahoney’s questioning the dress code for Pelham’s eighth grade students who will go on the Washington D.C. trip took a twist last Wednesday as parents met with the school board and superintendent.

In January, Mahoney, whose son is an eighth grader scheduled to go on the Washington D.C. trip, questioned a dress code that would have allowed students to wear jeans and sneakers on the days they traveled to and from Washington D.C. but prohibited them from wearing jeans and sneakers while touring in D.C.

During the meeting, Pelham Memorial School Principal Catherine Pinsonneault was sharply questioned about the dress code that has been in effect for a number of years.  Mahoney stated it was a financial hardship, but Pinsonneault calmly pointed out that financial aid was available to all students and that no parent had asked for aid.

“We handle each student request with utmost confidence, but no request has been received,” said Pinsonneault, who also said that all except one parent had signed the dress code statement.

The questioning and comments at the televised school board meeting set off a chain reaction that led parents to collect signatures on a petition that favored Pinsonneault and favored the dress code.

Pelham resident Mike Oxner presented a petition with nearly 400 signatures from Pelham residents who favored the dress code and supported Pelham Memorial School Principal Catherine Pinsonneault.  Oxner brought a prepared statement that he tried to read during Open Forum to both the board and administration.  Much to his surprise, there was much waving of hands and many interruptions.  He later posted on the message board, “‘Open forum’ has a new definition by the PSB?  The waving of hands and constant interruptions threw me off and what I had on paper was forbidden in the Open Forum - so much for an ‘Open Forum.’”

But Oxner wasn’t the only parent who was upset by Mahoney’s words and by the way the school board had treated Principal Pinsonneault during an open meeting.  Pelham parent Sheila Marcoux told the board she had been disgusted by their words and actions.  Because Superintendent Frank Bass had stepped in and ordered parents not to use Mahoney’s name, Marcoux ended by saying, “I feel the way the principal was treated at this meeting was embarrassing to this town.”

Pelham parent Bob Ernst challenged Bass’s ruling that Linda Mahoney’s name not be used.  Ernst felt that it was only fair that she should be identified since it was clear from the meeting tape available online and aired on cable TV that Mahoney was the one who issued the challenge to the principal and to the dress code.  Others agreed with him, as there were murmurs of assent from the parents gathered in the audience during his comments.

Diane O’Conner spoke against wearing jeans while touring.  She said she thought it would be disrespectful for students to be wearing jeans at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and with the number of people who signed the supporting petition there was obviously a lot of support for both the dress code and the principal.

Mahoney originally said the dress code of requiring shirts with collars and pants other than jeans was a financial burden.  Faced with angry parents, she told them that she wanted a legal opinion as to whether the school could impose a dress code or not.  The request for a legal opinion led to more unhappiness.

“It’s just more time wasted that the board should have been spending on important issues like school overcrowding,” said a parent sitting in the audience and watching the dialogue during Open Forum. 

Later, Bill Scanzani posted on the message board that the board was wasting tax dollars “due to the request for the school district to get a legal opinion on a matter that a second grader would know is perfectly legit.”

Other parents said they hoped Mahoney and other board members got the message that parents wanted their children to be respectful and they wanted to support the principals who were in their schools.

Bass said he would present the legal opinion at the next meeting.  Parents left the meeting with the message that they were going to continue to be watching and that they expected the school board to start addressing real issues as well as be supporting of their staff.

Three Candidates for Two Selectmen’s Seats

by Barbara O’Brien

There are three candidates this year for the two open selectmen’s slots in the Town of Windham.  Seeking re-election are Roger Hohenberger and Dennis Senibaldi.  Hoping to unseat one of the incumbents is Ross McLeod.  Selectmen’s terms are for three years.

Those running for office this year were given the opportunity to pitch their campaigns during a recent ‘Meet the Candidates Night,’ which was held at Town Hall on Tuesday, February 17.  The venue was sponsored by the Windham Woman’s Club and moderated by long-time Windham teacher Nancy Tullo.  Residents had the opportunity to phone in questions during the evening, if they were watching on cable TV, or, if in attendance, they could present their queries in written form.

Roger Hohenberger

Roger Hohenberger has been a resident of Windham since 1985.  He said he and his family fell in love with the quintessential New England town on their first visit to the area.  Shortly after establishing residency, he began giving back to the town he now called “home.”  In 1987, he joined the Windham Planning Board, a committee of which he eventually became chairman.  During his membership, he was also instrumental in working on the town’s original Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  Another of his projects was the development of an elderly housing program in Windham.  He was also paramount in developing Windham’s Master Plan.

In addition, Hohenberger served three full terms on the Windham School Board.  As a multiple-term selectman, Hohenberger has been involved in the I-93 Task Force, renovations to the Searles School and Chapel, renovations to the town’s transfer station, and the completion of the new fire station.

Hohenberger described himself as “a voice that scrutinizes the wants and needs” of the Town of Windham.  He says his fiscal conservativeness is proven through his lengthy record of service to both the school district and the town.  “I am a traditionalist,” he said.  “I want to keep Windham what made my family want to live here in the first place.”  When making decisions as a selectman, Hohenberger said, “I always listen to and value the voice of the people.”

Dennis Senibaldi

Dennis Senibaldi is seeking his second term as selectman.  He is currently chairman of the board, having held that position since last March.

Senibaldi said he has worked hard to keep the town budget as low as possible for the past three years.  His efforts at working to reorganize certain town departments have saved taxpayers money, he said.  “I feel I have kept the promises I made in 2006 (when elected),” Senibaldi said.

Senibaldi has served on the town’s recreation committee for the past eight years and has been very active in rehabilitating the town’s athletic fields.  He said he plans to continue working on these projects in the future.  As a member of the Windham Conservation Commission, Senibaldi has been very involved in the purchase of land for the purpose of preserving open space in Windham.

“I feel I have shown proven leadership,” Senibaldi said.  “My ability to think outside of the box has saved big bucks.”  Senibaldi described himself as “fiscally responsible.”  “I keep in touch with the residents of Windham, so I know what’s going on in town,” he said.

Ross McLeod

“Giving back to the town I love has always given me a real sense of purpose,” Ross McLeod said, noting his eight years of service on the Windham Planning Board.  He has also served for many years as a youth soccer coach and referee.  Currently he is the president of the Windham Soccer Association.  “I have proven experience,” he said.

If elected as selectman, McLeod has three goals he intends to pursue:

  1. Strengthening the concept of teamwork among selectmen and other town officials, as well as working together with school board members for the benefit of all residents;
  2. Transparency in office, as well as maintaining an open mind and listening to the wishes and desires of residents, with no hidden agenda;
  3. Maintaining the quality of life in Windham by preserving the character of the town and preserving property values.

“People’s views and opinions are important to me,” McLeod said.  “I respect everyone’s opinion.”  He also said he respects the talent and knowledge of the town’s department heads.  “I am totally opposed to micro-managing,” he said.

Questions and Answers

The first question asked of the candidates for selectman was addressed to Dennis Senibaldi.  It pertained to the current board’s decision to build a Class V paved road as a second access to the new Windham High School, despite the majority of voters having turned down the proposal on two occasions.

Senibaldi said that the second access was required, both by the local fire chief as well as the state fire marshal, and he didn’t want to take a chance on delaying the opening of the high school, which is slated for this coming August.  He also said he didn’t want the possibility of a law suit between the school board and the selectmen if an agreement wasn’t reached on building a second access road.  He said he felt it was more fiscally responsible to do the project jointly with the school board than to continue haggling.

Roger Hohenberger said he is totally in favor of the deal going forward, as mutually agreed between a unanimous vote of selectmen and the majority of school board members.  Hohenberger also said, however, that he does object to a warrant article on the issue not being put before voters this March.  “It wouldn’t have delayed the project,” Hohenberger said, by taking the time to let voters have a say.

Ross McLeod said, if elected, he will be inheriting a done deal.  “I would do my best to see the road completed in a fiscally responsible manner,” he added.

“What should selectmen do that is not currently being done?” was the second question of the evening.  McLeod said selectmen need to reach out to the school board and coordinate projects.  “We need to engage in an open and constructive dialogue,” he said.  McLeod also said he would expand the town’s ethics policies to include volunteers, not just town employees.  In addition, if elected, McLeod would want the town attorney to be involved in negotiating any land deals.

Senibaldi said he wants to see board members reach out more to other town boards and employees to better work out issues.  Hohenberger said he agreed with Senibaldi.  “This should be a top priority,” he said.  “It needs to be done more often.”

Another question put forth to selectmen’s candidates involved proposed zoning ordinances pertaining to the allowance of ‘Big Box’ stores in Windham.

Senibaldi said he wasn’t sure what the specific ramifications would be if voters permitted this use in the commercial zone.  Planning board members can’t just say “no” to developers if the ordinance passes, he said.

Hohenberger disagreed with Senibaldi, saying that planning board members can just say “no”.  Although to do so would most likely result in a lawsuit against the town, he added.  There are ways, however, to place contingencies on such development, which would preserve the character of Windham, he added.  “You can’t just say ‘no’ for substance,” McLeod said.  “You’d have to find a reason.  You’d have to be very careful.”

Another question related to thoughts on providing passenger rail service along Route 93.  McLeod said he feels the need is a big issue due to traffic congestion.  “I’d love to see it built,” he said.  “It would be much better for the environment.”  “At what cost?” asked Senibaldi, saying that the estimated cost of building a commuter rail along Route 93 is in the range of $300 to $400 million as opposed to $80 million for bus service.  Senibaldi said he doesn’t feel the state can afford the extra money at this point in time.  “It’s the proper way to go if it can be afforded,” Hohenberger said of a passenger rail system.  He also said he believes both railway and buses have a place in providing commuter service.

With taxes on everyone’s minds these days, another question asked Hohenberger how to keep them down in the Town of Windham.  Hohenberger said town officials have to continue taking a hard look at what is wanted and what is needed and still be able to provide residents with all needed services.  Selectmen have to work jointly with department heads to accomplish this, Hohenberger said.  Town officials also need to go after all sources of revenue, including grants and donations, he said.

Registered voters will have their say on which two candidates will serve as Windham selectmen for the next three years on Tuesday, March 10, at which time the polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. at Golden Brook Elementary School.

Three-Way Race for Town Clerk

by Barbara O’Brien

The position of Town Clerk, a generally uncontested race in many New Hampshire towns, has attracted three candidates this year in the Town of Windham.  Vying for the single three-year term are long-time incumbent Joan Tuck, Elizabeth “Betty” Dunn, and Nicole Merrill.

Joan Tuck

Joan Tuck became a Windham resident in 1965.  Two years later she was elected to the job of town clerk, a position she held until 1969.  In 1969, due to family obligations, she stepped down from the job of town clerk and took on the duties of deputy town clerk.  She held this office until 1975, when she again ran for town clerk.  She has held that position for the past 34 years.  Although she originally said she intended to step down from those duties at the end of her current term, she changed her mind and is again seeking re-election.  “As a woman, it’s my perogative to change my mind,” she said.

Tuck is the current president of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association.  She said she has a vast stockpile of knowledge pertaining to the job and strives to keep abreast of all the latest regulations and procedures.  “I will let my 41 years of experience stand behind me,” Tuck said.

In addition to her duties as town clerk, Tuck also served for 16 years as a Windham firefighter and emergency medical technician.

As for any changes she would make in the town clerk’s office should she achieve re-election, Tuck said she is always willing to take input from residents on other services desired.  She said she has no plans to change the current hours of operation.

Betty Dunn

Betty Dunn, who currently serves as the Windham School District Moderator, is seeking her first term as town clerk.  Dunn, who is retired from state government, most recently worked for the State Attorney General’s Office.  It was this job that made her more aware of the responsibilities and functions of the office of town clerk, she said.  “What’s really important to me at this point in my life is being part of local government, of making a difference in people’s lives,” Dunn said.

Dunn has been a resident of Windham since 1972.  During that time she served some 30 years on various boards and committees, including the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Board of Selectmen, the Historic District Commission, and as school district moderator.  “I am a team player,” Dunn said.  “I am respectful, reliable, and knowledgeable.”

As preparation for the possibility of holding the job of town clerk, Dunn said she has already researched all duties and laws relevant to the position.  She has also spoken with officials from the State Department of Motor Vehicles regarding processes related to registering motor vehicles.  There would be no problems in transitioning to a new town clerk, she said.

As for what she might change from the status quo, Dunn said she would do an analysis of the convenience of current office hours, as well as explore the possibility of instituting electronic motor vehicle registration.

Nicole Merrill

Nicole Merrill has been deputy town clerk in Windham for the past five years.  She said she originally decided to seek the position of town clerk because incumbent town clerk Joan Tuck had said she was retiring this year.  Despite Tuck’s decision to seek re-election, Merrill said she sees no reason to withdraw her name from the ballot.

Merrill said she would love to give back to the community, where she has been working for half a decade, by serving as town clerk.  If elected, her goals would be to make the town clerk’s hours more convenient for residents.  “To become town clerk is the next logical step in my career,” Merrill said.

As for her qualifications, Merrill said she is knowledgeable of all tasks required to conduct the business of town clerk.  She said she performed the job of acting town clerk for several months when Tuck was on a leave of absence.  She is also certified as a notary public.  “The convenience of residents is what matters most,” she said.

Merrill said she has several short-term goals she would like to achieve if elected as town clerk, including extending the hours of operation to include later hours on Monday all year round, adding additional hours one Saturday each month, and converting to a paperless environment as soon as possible.  Merrill said, if elected, her expertise would allow for “a smooth transition” from one town clerk to another.

Questions and Answers

The one question asked of each of the three candidates for town clerk relates to their opinions on switching the job from a fee-based payment to receiving salary and benefits.

Betty Dunn said she doesn’t feel that a fee-based system is reasonable in today’s society.  As in years past, the town clerk’s business is no longer conducted in a spare room in someone’s house, where much of the job was done at the town clerk’s own expense.  “As a matter of fairness, the town clerk should be a salaried position,” Dunn said.

Based on the method used in most other area communities these days, Merrill also said she believes the office of town clerk should be compensated by salary and benefits, not based on fees collected for services rendered.

Joan Tuck, who currently is paid through fees collected, says she also agrees with a change to salary and benefit compensation.  Most other communities in New Hampshire pay their town clerks a salary with benefits, she said.  “Benefits are very important,” she said, adding that if she had known how long she was going to serve as town clerk she would have wanted to receive benefits all along.

Voters can make their choices for town clerk known on Tuesday, March 10.  The polls, located at Golden Brook Elementary School, will be open on Election Day from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Town Center Plans Face Uncertain Future

by Lynne Ober

This year, residents petitioned for a new fire station but selectmen did not recommend the petitioned warrant article, and this has led to concerns about the future of the town center project which was designed to repair the ever-worsening traffic problems.

Selectman Bob Haverty told the board that planning director Jeff Gowan had e-mailed him about the future of this project.  According to Haverty, New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) has contacted Gowan and asked for an update.  “They are seeking direction from the town.”  Haverty said that Gowan requested that selectmen draft a letter to the DOT indicating that they didn’t support placing a fire station on the ballot this March and were now recommending the dual roundabout Option B with the caveat that if the petitioned warrant article passed the town would then support Option A.

During the ensuing discussion, Haverty said that selectmen could ask for another year’s extension.

Selectman Hal Lynde, however, said that he disliked Option B but was very concerned about losing the money from the state.  In Lynde’s opinion, the board might not go forward with a fire station on next year’s ballot.

Haverty said that if selectmen spent money renovating the current station that it would be difficult to then ask the voters to tear that station down and build a new station next year.

Town Administrator Tom Gaydos suggested that Gowan meet with DOT staff to discuss the town’s situation and the economy and see if he could get a better feel for the pressures that DOT had.  Gaydos also suggested contacting the Governor’s Council to have a similar discussion.

Selectman Bill McDevitt said he liked both of those ideas and thought that they should be implemented.

Lynde felt that a letter was better because it provided documentation that the two projects — the fire station and the traffic situation — were tied together.  Lynde also pointed out that these two projects would provide jobs in the area.

After more discussion, selectmen asked Gaydos to meet with Gowan and DOT staff to assess the situation before a letter was written.  Gaydos said that he had met with Congressman Paul Hodes and discussed the overall plan.  Gaydos felt that both the traffic project and the senior center expansion project should go before Rural Development to seek funding.

Before ending the discussion, selectmen discussed how they might use expected stimulus funds.

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