Transparency Isn’t An Inconvenience

The City of Keene’s apparent surprise that the number of Right To Know requests in Keene are higher than anywhere in the state shouldn’t come as a surprise. (“Keene has averaged about 100 RTK requests annually since 2017” By Mia Summerson Sentinel Staff  Aug 10, 2021)

Consider that rather than complying with simple requests for information, the city routinely requires people, and even city councilors, to file Right To Know requests to get information that should be readily accessible.

What is a surprise is that the city continues this practice. 

In 2019 the NH Supreme Court ruled against the city in Salchetti v. The City of Keene, where the Court said that the city didn’t take right to know very seriously, and found that the city’s practice of not storing data in a form that is readily available to the public is unconstitutional.

The real question should be why the city feels that it is such an inconvenience to be transparent.

Here’s A Tip

A disappointing new reality. The restaurant where me and a friend have been having breakfast once a week has closed on that day because of a labor shortage. This is happening more and more as low-wage workers are beginning to realize that they are getting it in the neck, and are choosing to do other things.

The United States is one of only a few countires I’ve been in that still forces waitstaff to live on tips. I say get rid of the tip system – as most of the world has – and pay people a living wage with benefits. This country has been subsidizing goods and services with sub-standard labor costs for way too long. If capitalism really works, make business prove it.

No New Hampshire Advantage

Education, labor, freedom and taxes

In our history “the people” have only gained partial control of the government during a few short periods of time before the status quo just took it back.

I think that may be the nature of things that we can’t change. But, public consciousness needs to change to a point where regular folks don’t become complacent – ever. Special interests never become complacent. They are always trying to gain an advantage, and they succeed when folks stop paying attention or get distracted.

That’s why education is so very important. We need to educate every single generation to think critically and resist every effort to diminish education. Have you ever wondered why New Hampshire state government’s contribution to higher education has dwindled to the point where it is a farce to even call the Univerisity System of New Hampshire a state university system?

Today’s distractions pit regular folks against each other by creating imaginary enemies like immigrants, non-Christians, gender differences, etc. These things that suddenly consume the lives of people in fact have no bearing on people’s everyday lives. What does the crossing of a border in Arizona really have to do with the life of someone living in New Hampshire? Nothing.

But it does distract them from thinking about why they pay a disproportionate amount of taxes in New Hampshire than a richer man does. It distracts them from wondering why this state has no minimum wage. It distracts them from questioning why there is so little freedom and no local control in a state who’s motto is “Live Free or Die”.

Water Rate Hike Needs Thinking Over

The City of Keene’s proposal to increase water rates for customers who use too much water seems logical on the face of it, but there are two glaring problems with the current proposal.First, Keene already gives a discount rate to bulk commercial and industrial users for doing exactly what the proposal is trying to stem – using more water. You would think the City might consider raising those rates before tapping the residential homeowner.Second, multi-family buildings by and large have only one meter for up to four families. These families are renters – which make up more than a half of Keene’s population – and are ill prepared to pay even more for what are among the state’s highest rents.This should be sent back to the finance committee and amended to address two glaring inequities among classes of citizens in Keene.

Gandhi, Seabrook and the Capitol March

Let me share my perspective on the January 6th march on the Capitol. I come into this with an understanding of the value of our right to protest when we disagree with our government. But, there was something different about the protest rally held in Washington, DC on January 6th. I contrast it to a protest I was involved in at the Seabrook nuclear power plant on New Hampshire’s marshy coast in May 1977.

I was part of a movement to stop the building of a twin nuclear power facility; the protestors in DC on the 6th were part of a movement to stop the counting of presidential electors by congress. Both were planned and organized ahead of time. The difference was that the Seabrook protestors had to attend non-violent, civil disobedience tactics classes given by the organizers, the Clamshell Alliance – named for the clams in the marshy bogs surrounding the town of Seabrook, NH. 

The DC protestors were provoked to storm the capitol without being trained in non-violent tactics. Revisionists are already floating the idea that most people attended the DC protest merely to support the president, but conveniently omit the advertising and organizational leaflets blatantly telling them to be strong and forcefully stop the counting of elector ballots – “Stop the Steal.” In the end, no injuries or property damage was incurred at Seabrook, but five deaths and utter mayhem was reported from the capitol. 

Keene Sentinel reporter Ernest Hebert quoted me saying afterwards that, “A few police got irritable for a while there, but it didn’t last long: and, on the whole, they treated us well.” You see, at Seabrook, protestors sat in groups singing, passively going limp when the police dragged them away. Contrast that with the march on the Capitol, where protestors were the aggressors, killing five, breaking windows and furniture, and defecating in the halls where portraits of Americana is hung.

Gandhi and John Lennon were right about passive resistance: the authorities don’t know what to do with you. The protest at Seabrook was marginally successful in that only one of the twin towers were built. In DC, the counting resumed and a new president was affirmed – nothing changed. 

My penalty was a $100 fine and a misdemenor record I have to explain every five years when I reapply for my justice of the peace certification. But, that’s okay. Capitol protestors will be charged with a felony and, ironically, be forever barred from owning a firearm. But, the worst of the capitol march is the damage done to the American psyche and our sense of right and wrong.

Too late for publication in the Keene Sentinel

To the editor,

Apparently, the pressure upon local news outlets require that I send this letter in an alternative media. So…..I write today to endorse Lucius Parshall as the next state representative for Marlborough and Troy, and Patricia Martin to represent Rindge and Fitzwilliam.

As the next county commissioner for Keene, Marlborough and Roxbury, I will need legislators on the county delegation who don’t stonewall solutions to state downshifting, which increases local property taxes, and who wholeheartedly support measures to combat climate change and promote renewable energy systems for our homes and industries. In my view, these two measures are paramount to solving many other spin-off issues that trouble us all, and that have been given short shrift in recent years.

Life experiences mold us all and prepare us for later callings. Lucius’ career teaching children has also taught him to care about their futures. Pat is a scientist, veteran and nurse, which gives her a unique perspective that we should take advantage of and use. 

Patricia Martin and Lucius Parshall are two people who stand out in the crowd. They fit the bill. Please elect them as state representatives and members of the county delegation.

Terry M. Clark

Cheshire County Treasurer

14 Barrett Ave.

Keene, NH 03431

Keene Gets “SolSmart Bronze”

Keene is receiving a Bronze designation from the national SolSmart program for making it faster, easier, and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar.

This all really started when mayor Michael E.J. Blastos jetted off to a new-fangled energy conference and came back home with what became the blueprint to set Keene on a course of economic sustainability.

We’ve met many benchmarks since those days – Drafting one of the first energy plans to manage carbon emissions, to putting a 750 kw solar array on the Marlboro St complex; resolving to reduce greenhouse gases to under 350ppm; passing Complete Streets guidelines; there are too many initiatives to name here. 

Most recently, city staff is putting the spit shine on a revised city code effort that will likely favor Green Development – And, the city and the county are in their perspective corners, working on Community Power Aggregation plans that could blow the lid off the grid and it’s dependence on fossil fuel generation plants.

Many, many people have been involved over the past 20 years, and more converts on coming on board every day. The future looks bright for Keene.

But there is still the 300 pound gas elephant in the room that is poised to explode our goal to become free of fossil fuels and all of their destructive elements. Without that spector, maybe we could have pulled off a silver, or even the gold!

But here we go!
Congratulations Keene!

Access To Information Is Important

The City of Keene IT department updates and installs new software in a rotating budget cycle.

There are a number of things going on now that makes this an opportune time to look at why City of Keene departmental software can’t search and collate information in a useful way.

Example one: After receiving the monthly M.A.R. report from chief Russo in March, I wondered if we could run multi-year graphs that would reveal trends in types of offenses in Keene. My thinking was that we should collect data that could help us direct social services in problem areas, thereby preventing future offenses and future police budget expenses. Chief Russo told me the software used at the KPD couldn’t do that.

Example two: A better data search system would speak to our problems with right to know laws, and the impression by the NH 8th District Superior Court, and the NH Supreme Court, that we don’t take RTK very seriously. The public has a right to know and we have an obligation to store that information in a form that is readily available to them. So says the court.

Example three: Let’s talk about the inadequacy of the search function on the City of Keene website. As a city councilor, I value that function in order to research issues as they come to us each week. There was a marked change for the worse about five years ago – when the site was “redone and improved”. Information that used to exist on our website is no longer readily available. I’m told now to ask the city clerk’s office and they’ll get it for me. I should say, that it might be there for me. I was told not too log ago that I had to file a RTK petition to get information. I just need this information to do my job as a city councilor. The public has a right to have this information, but is being denied that right.

In order to get a better handle on Keene’s social needs, Right To Know, and council research, we should investigate the data search and compilation capability of the city’s software packages, and train personnel to collect and compile the data that is everyone’s right to have.

I’ve filed for County Commissioner representing Keene, Roxbury and Marlborough.

It’s been an exciting time being Cheshire County Treasurer. Through this experience, I’ve seen the extent in which counties in New Hampshire effect the everyday lives of people living here. I’ve come to realize the dedication of administrators, departmental heads and their staff, the state representatives who serve as our county delegation, and the board of commissioners.

The single-most thing that’s become apparent to me from watching this team is that department heads need commissioner support to be innovative and to run smoothly and efficiently. And taxpayers need a commission that will be both mindful of community needs, and the ability to finance those needs.

Luckily, that combination has been the order of the day and I promise to continue and add to the progress in areas such as nursing and critical care, energy efficiency and resourcefulness, and meaningful, alternative programs to the traditional criminal justice system for individuals with a substance use disorder and/or mental illness.

Throughout the next few months, I’ll try to highlight the important role a county commissioner plays in the lives of the citizens of Cheshire County. I hope I’ll be able to win your confidence.

Arts and Culture Corridor Project

At the May 28th finance committee meeting, I opposed borrowing $770,000 this year for Gilbo Avenue infrastructure work because there are no clear plans for what the corridor would entail, when the work might start, or even if there is a consensus to move ahead. The story so far gives no analysis of the taxpayer’s point of view, just that it seems to be a fait accompli.

This infrastructure work and the Arts and Culture Corridor work should be occurring simultaneously.

MEDC is looking for funding right now, so there will have to eventually be a specific plan, right? The sponsors will need to know what the project entails. And then, they’ll have to come to the city for permission. But, that hasn’t been done yet.

If not for the planned arts corridor, when would we do this infrastructure work?

Is the work urgent? If so, why wasn’t it in prior CIP’s? Has there been emergency repairs that the finance committee doesn’t know about?

Or is the project being fast-tracked for the arts corridor?

If I wanted to build a housing development, I would be responsible for paying for any new infrastructure – roads, water/sewer, storm water – right? Then I would give it to the city, right? Just like we did on Ashuelot Ct and other neighborhoods?

So, that begs the question, how much of the $770,00 is for new, expanded infrastructure that should be paid for by the developers?

I think we need have and adhere to a concrete timeline. Steady as we go. I don’t want any mistakes here. 

And ultimately, we have to someday justify this in the face of our rising tax rate. When does this constant development start decreasing the burden of the residential tax base?

(Keene Sentinel photo)