By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
PEMBROKE – The Exit 11 tollbooth plaza on Route 3 in Merrimack is coming out, the attorney general’s office will be releasing a report on police use of force in a case in Albany on Thursday, and ski season pre-sales look good.
These are among the discussions, suggestions, and votes at the state’s Executive Council meeting with the governor on Wednesday.
The council and Gov. Chris Sununu met in person Wednesday with state department commissioners and top officials at the National Guard training complex in Pembroke. InDepthNH.org reported remotely.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky joined the meeting by phone as he is in a 14-day quarantine due to a recent trip to Colorado.
Republican Councilor Russell Prescott, who with Volinsky is not seeking another term, used a portion of the prayer he gave for the day’s deliberation to ask God to help in their decisions and for the “great honor” to “help the people of New Hampshire” through public service.
Of great interest to Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, the council unanimously approved a contract with Busby Construction of Atkinson to get rid of the toll booth structures in Merrimack for about a half-million dollars.
Last winter, the council zeroed out the toll and the structures have remained vacant on the highway.
Pignatelli said while she was wearing a mask, behind it she had “a huge smile.”
She said she spent the past 16 years working with others to eliminate the tolls and “today I get to cross off a huge item on my bucket list.”
The council also learned about relief efforts for the state’s bus industry. As an informational item, the council learned that Sununu has authorized bail-out money for three bus companies whose ridership has suffered due to the pandemic.
Concord Coach and Dartmouth Coach will get a little over $2 million each while C&J Bus Lines of Portsmouth was awarded $3.4 million through the federal CARES Act, which the governor maintains he has sole authority to distribute.
Pignatelli, a Democrat, disagrees with Sununu on the federal funds being distributed solely by him and not through the legislature or the council, which meets about every two weeks. She brings it up at the end of every meeting.
Volinsky asked Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, as he has in the past, for an update on an investigation with respect to a State Police stop of a man who claims he was mistreated because of his race.
MacDonald said he expects his office to release a report on the May 20 matter on Thursday.
According to police records, the incident occurred in the town of Albany involving State Troopers Margaret Ready and Hawley Rae who pulled over an operator for a possible vehicle inspection violation.
They arrested Jean Ronald Saint Preux, 34, and charged him with resisting arrest, disobeying a police officer, and assault on a police officer and a motor vehicle sticker inspection violation.
On Tuesday, Saint Preux pleaded guilty to disobeying a police officer and received a $620 fine and 180 days in jail, suspended upon good behavior, according to the Conway Daily Sun.
Saint Preux was ordered to pay a $74 fine for having an uninspected vehicle. One charge of simple assault against Trooper Ready was placed on file and a second charge against Trooper Rae was dropped, the newspaper reported.
The proceedings were in Conway Circuit Court before Judge Charles Greenhalgh.
Saint Preux, who is African American, has said racial bias was behind the incident. A video of the encounter was widely distributed on social media.
Saint Preux said police broke his vehicle window, tased him and dragged him from the vehicle. Police said he refused repeated requests to provide his license and registration information.
‘Take Out’ and Ski
“Take out, take out, take out. Support your local restaurants,” Sununu said.
He urged everyone to get on the phone and online to help support local businesses even if they feel less sure they want to go inside to dine because of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, which has killed 446 residents since March.
Sununu said that last month’s state rooms and meals tax revenue was down 17 percent which was better than he expected and much better than most other states. He said economic bright spots are that ski season pass sales for this winter are little up over last year, which is important to “local tourism.”
He said that perhaps many New Englanders are not flying out to ski but staying local.
He said at the end of the month or by mid-November the state should have a better idea on lodging reservations for often lucrative and crucial Christmas vacation week.
The council also approved about $500,000 for the repair of the roadway for the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin.
A sole-source contract means that nobody else bid. Some councilors don’t like to approve them and state Sen. Dan Feltes, who is running as a Democrat for governor, has said he will oppose any sole-source contracts if elected. He said more time could be given to find competitive bidders and he has charged that Sununu has approved sole-source contracts that benefit his friends and family.
There were a few sole-source contracts awarded Wednesday, mostly for the Health and Human Services Department. Some went to Lakes Region Mental Health, NorDX, and extension for the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Inc., Atlanta, Ga., to continue to provide temporary employees to support the COVID-19 response in New Hampshire. The contract is at no cost to the state and this extends the completion date from July 31, 2020, to March 31, 2021.
Another sole-source contract request came from the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was approved. The contract is with Eastern Pipe Services LLC, Bow, to repair the Wildlife Pond that is classified as a dam and located on the grounds of the home in Tilton, in the amount of $13,500.
Confirmations included, among others, Stephanie Mills of Concord to the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, Brian Abbott Jr. of Keene to Community College System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, Jared Moreau of Meredith to the Lakes Management Advisory Committee, Paul Lipnick of Nashua to NH Real Estate Commission, Carol Granfield of Meredith to the Public Employees Labor Relations Board, Ryan Cloutier of Hooksett to Residential Ratepayers Advisory Board.
Nominations included Harry Brown of West Stewartstown to the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Citizens Committee, and Maura McCann of Concord to the Council of Responsible Gambling, among others.
Get a Flu Shot
Commissioner of Health and Human Services Lori Shibinette answered questions on the coronavirus and changes in testing protocols and reporting and urged everyone to get a flu shot.
“If you get up in the morning and don’t feel well, stay home,” that is the “low threshold” the state is asking people to abide by this fall and into the winter as there is still a potential for COVID-19 transmission.
While there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 shots for the common flu is available across the state.
The council will get an update in several weeks on child abuse reported by school nurses to the state now that schools are open.
It might be a little early but Shibinette said she would go back and look at the numbers of reports of child abuse through the schools and give the council a report.
Councilor Ted Gatsas, D-Manchester, has been voicing concerns for the lack of reports since March and has said schools opening might be a chance to help protect more children from abuse.
“I am really concerned with the children. My understanding is you’re not getting as many calls as you have before COVID-19,” Gatsas said.
Shibinette said they are getting reports and there are many community organizations and neighbors out there with eyes on the children in addition to schools.
Victoria Sheehan, commissioner of Transportation, said she was not sure she would have new bids on the I-93 widening contract in the next two months, but a lot of considerations and options are under discussion. Sheehan said for legal reasons, she could not discuss how the project might be structured.
Gatsas said he wants to move forward with the project for next spring and not miss that construction season, noting some contractors would have to lay people off if that were the case. Previous bids showed a huge jump in construction prices.
“If $59 million was in the 10-year plan, how much of this project could be done?” Gatsas asked. Interest rates are so low, he said, the state should look to get this done but it should not delay.
The council will also get an update on hospitals and what their financial situation is due to the pandemic. Sununu said overall they are down about 5 percent or $187 million but 60 percent of that is due to two large hospitals’ losses in the southern tier. He said some small rural hospitals are currently in the black but that is for now. They have received three rounds of relief funding.
There is still about $30 billion nationally for hospital help, he noted.