Councilors Question PragerU and Out-of-State Child Placement Controversies

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Paula Tracy photo

Gov. Chris Sununu speaks with former Executive Councilor Ruth Griffin before the council meeting at Hampton Beach Seashell Conference Center. Griffin, a longtime public servant led the Pledge of Allegiance before the meeting.

Above, members of the NH State Beach Patrol were honored for saving 311 from rip tides this year, reconnecting almost 200 lost children with their families, and as Gov. Chris Sununu said, “They pulled a frickin airplane out of the water.” Paula Tracy photo


HAMPTON – Executive Councilors questioned top Health and Human Services officials about a recent report by the Office of Child Advocate criticizing DCYF’s placement of two boys in an out-of-state treatment center and asked how the state can get children back immediately when a problem is found with a vendor.

The 17-page report by Child Advocate Cassandra Sanchez alleges abuse at a Tennessee facility where two New Hampshire teens were placed saying staff there was giving incentives to children to assault other children.
But the underlying problem is a lack of placement available in the state.
Councilors were told if the state took emergency action to get kids returned quickly in the future, they may have to stay in hospital emergency rooms.

The council met at the Hampton Beach Seashell Conference Center and approved funds to help support construction of a New Balance factory in Londonderry, which could employ more than 150, and funds to tear down the current Department of Justice to make way for a new legislative parking garage in Concord.

Ruth Griffin of Portsmouth, who began public service in 1970 and from 1987 to 2007 was an Executive Councilor, led the pledge of allegiance to the flag. Griffin just celebrated her 98th birthday.

The council honored Hampton Beach, Bob Preston and chief Patrick Murphy of the NH State Beach Patrol which have saved 311 from rip tides this year, reconnected almost 200 lost children with their families, and as Gov. Chris Sununu said, “They pulled a frickin airplane out of the water.”

“Thank you for keeping the beach safe for everyone,” Sununu said.
Realtor Bob Preston was also honored as a member of the Hampton Beach Commission.


The Office of Child Advocate report indicated the Division for Children, Youth and Families did not do an on-site evaluation of the Bledsoe Youth Academy in Gallatin, Tenn.
It took over a month to get two New Hampshire boys placed there returned after the child advocate and her assistant visited the facility and found the two teens were being traumatized there.

Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord, who is running for governor as a Democrat, asked questions of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Weaver about the Aug. 8 OCA report that painted a horrific picture of the treatment facility.

Warmington asked if the department needs more authority to extract a child immediately.

Weaver said, “I am not sure I need the authority but the resources, I do not have the place for them.”
“Currently?” Warmington asked.
“No,” Weaver said.
Warmington pressed: “Even if you found a child under really threatening conditions?”

Weaver said, “We would be working with authorities in that state.”

Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, said she was also concerned about the Tennessee placement.
She noted that the new Hampstead Hospital for children’s behavioral health has helped the youth emergency room boarding crisis but she asked about all the out-of-state contracts.

Weaver said New Hampshire has contracts with a number of states and the state certifies those programs.

Stevens asked, “Are we doing more harm than good?” by having youths in out-of-state programs.

Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, said it is unacceptable for a child to be in those circumstances “more than five minutes.”
“It is about children being safe. Whether it is in Tennessee or Alaska, they must be safe. We need to be able to extract a child within two minutes,” Gatsas said. Gatsas attended the meeting remotely.

Sununu said as soon as the issue was brought out by Child Advocate Sanchez, the state was involved and finding placement.
But the capacity issue here remains as it took more than a month after being notified of the traumatizing environment for the boys to be sent to separate New Hampshire facilities.

New Hampshire is working to increase placement space for children with behavioral troubles and has made progress but still there is a lack of places in the state to care for them.

“The worst thing you could do was have no place to put the child,” Sununu said.

The youths are now back in New Hampshire.

“Do we have the ability to extract them today?” Gatsas asked.
“Yes,” Weaver said, “But they might end up in the ER,” in New Hampshire.

Sununu said: “It was a terrible situation. But there were eyes on the situation.”

Gatsas said a hospital emergency room “is probably a safer place” in some cases.

The state Board of Education has tabled a proposal by the controversial PragerU, owned by conservative radio show host Dennis Prager, to provide financial literacy programming for students in New Hampshire.
Councilor Warmington asked Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut whether a contract with PragerU would come before the council and the governor.
Edelblut said “no.”

Edelblut said this is a third party entity that has applied for approval, not something he is advancing.

Warmington asked if this was the same organization that is floating curriculum with titles relative to “Was the Civil War about slavery? Making man masculine again and health care is not right?…”
Edelblut said: “Those programs are not proposed.”

The curriculum being considered is about financial literacy, credit card debt, Edelblut said.

Warmington said, “Let me express my dismay,” that the state would even consider an organization for education purposes which provides “inappropriate, political content.”

Raymond Green of Milford was reappointed as a member of the Fish and Game Commission and the governor nominated Vikram Mansharamani of Lincoln to the Business Finance Authority Board of Directors.

Three were nominated for reappointment to the state Judicial Council: Kimberley Casey of East Kingston, Steven D. Lubrano of Hanover and Peter H. Utter of Exeter. Derek Ferland of Claremont was also nominated to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, Housing Finance Board, succeeding John A. Cuddy of Freedom.

Sneaker and athletic wear manufacturer New Balance was given the largest BFA guarantee to create almost 250 jobs in Londonderry.
No public members spoke at the hearing Wednesday morning and the council unanimously approved the request.

James Key-Wallace, executive director of the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority was joined by two New Balance executives for the public hearing and vote.

The plan is to use $72.5 million in bonds, of which $50 million will be guaranteed to build the building and at the end of the 10-year lease they pay off the bond and own the building.
Key-Wallace said New Balance is in excellent financial condition.

Secretary of State David Scanlan was in attendance along with the Department of Environmental Services officials as the council approved a rare transfer of ownership of land under a large dock to Tuftonboro.
It is used by boaters and island owners and is in disrepair.
The area is 1,100 square feet and has been used over 100 years by the public and is helpful for island property owners.
Tuftonboro now owns the ground under the structure to allow it to receive new pilings.

All the land under water on Lake Winnipesaukee is owned by the state.

The council approved funding for Dover, Kingston and Keene as part of the InvestNH program.
The three communities will get help demolishing properties at 725-727 Central Avenue in Dover,  at 178 Main Street in Kingston and at 160 Water St. in Keene to help advance initiatives to build more workforce housing.
In total, about $118,000 will be spent from the new $100 million program which also has about $60 allocated for construction costs for new units.
Another aspect of the InvestNH program is aimed at providing incentive rewards for municipalities that expedite permit processing for such construction.
The council also approved just over $1 million to Manchester and Hillsborough to permit a total of 107 new units.
The bulk of that funding will go to the Hillsborough Heights project at 219 West Main St. in Hillsborough, to create 84 new units of housing. About $840,000 goes to Hillsborough.
Manchester has two projects also approved by the InvestNH initiative which could receive $80,000 for eight units at 57 Manchester St. and $150,000 for 15 units at 1211-1217 Elm St. in Manchester.

The 59,000 square foot, three-story structure Department of Justice building is coming down.
The council approved a contract with S&R of Lowell, Mass., the lowest of three bidders for the project with a bid of $920,000.
The legislature approved more than $30 million for a new garage, using federal funds, and this is just the first step to replace the Storrs Street parking garage for members of the legislature.

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