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Keene primary shows close mayor's race between Greenwald, Hansel

If the results of Tuesday’s primary are any indication, Keene’s mayoral race is a dead heat.

Mitchell H. Greenwald led George S. Hansel by two votes, 1,113 to 1,111.

Both candidates advance to the general election, so the result is largely symbolic, but points to what could be a close contest on Nov. 5. The two city councilors ran neck-and-neck in each of the city’s five wards, nowhere more than nine votes apart.

“It’s gonna be a horse race,” Hansel said Tuesday night.

A candidate whose legal name is Nobody — formerly known as Rich Paul — was eliminated Tuesday night after receiving 47 votes.

Greenwald and Hansel are vying for a seat left open by Mayor Kendall W. Lane, who is retiring after serving four two-year terms.

“It’s been a very intense race up to this point,” Greenwald said. “Well-fought, well-spoken, and hopefully we will see more voters out in the next round.”

Turnout in Tuesday’s primary was 12 percent, with 2,307 of the city’s 18,989 registered voters casting ballots.

That’s a good deal higher than the 2017 primary, which had virtually no candidates at risk of elimination and drew just 5 percent of voters, and on par with the more vigorously contested 2015 primary.

Hansel, 33, a co-owner and executive at Filtrine Manufacturing Co. in Keene, was elected to the City Council four years ago. He cast Tuesday’s close result as a sign that voters want fresh leadership.

“It shows me that the city’s really ready for change, and some of these longtime incumbent politicians just can’t take anything for granted,” Hansel said.

Greenwald disagreed, saying he expects a wider margin in next month’s general. “A lot of my supporters likely were not all that motivated to vote in a primary,” he said.

Greenwald, 67, owns Greenwald Realty Associates in Keene and rents and manages several apartment buildings. He has served on the City Council for more than two decades. During the campaign, he has touted his experience in city government, local business and the broader community, which he moved to 49 years ago.

Both candidates said they plan to hit the pavement, knock on doors and talk to as many voters as possible in the next month.

Each candidate cited housing as a top issue. Hansel said he wants to look at it “in a comprehensive way,” from workforce housing to how to refurbish and redevelop the city’s existing stock.

Other priorities for Hansel include working on economic-development opportunities and marketing Keene. “The mayor of Keene has the ability to be a great advocate for this region,” he said.

Greenwald also discussed housing, saying he hopes to “energize the code enforcement office” to deal with rental properties that landlords have failed to properly maintain, particularly for economically vulnerable tenants.

“There are a lot of people that are just struggling to get by, to make their mortgage payments, to make their rent payments,” he said. “And we really need to pay attention to them as well as our higher-level goals for the city at large.”

He said he also wants to “energize” neighborhoods to make improvements themselves, perhaps in partnership with local banks.

Greenwald also raised the issue of jobs, saying the city should work with existing employers and simplify regulations to allow them to expand, as well as seek to attract new businesses.


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Sitting Keene councilors rise to the top in at-large race

Filiault

Keene residents voted a mixture of incumbents and newcomers onto the general-election ballot for City Council at-large seats in Tuesday’s municipal primary election.

All three sitting at-large councilors in the race — Kate M. Bosley, with 1,158 votes, Bettina A. Chadbourne, with 1,137, and Randy L. Filiault, with 1,019 — made their way to the top of the ballot. They were followed closely by Ward 1 Councilor Stephen L. Hooper, with 952 votes, and newbies Michael J. Remy, with 817, and Peter A. Starkey, with 798.

Ten of the 13 at-large candidates advance to the general election Nov. 5, when voters will pick five for the two-year terms representing all five of Keene’s wards. Rounding out the ballot are Nathaniel Stout, a former councilor who received 685 votes Tuesday, and newcomers John W. Therriault (521 votes), Allen Raymond (394 votes) and Todd A. Rogers (267 votes).

Novices Ian Freeman (178 votes), Anthony Boame (170 votes) and Matt Roach (122 votes) didn’t make the cut.

Finishing with the most votes Tuesday, Bosley, 40, said she was “in shock.”

“I was not expecting this at all,” she said, as the newest at-large councilor elected in August by the council to fill a vacancy.

Bosley is the general manager of Comfort Keepers and works in real estate investing with her husband, Craig Henderson.

Her focus on the council thus far has been fiscal responsibility and finding ways to broaden the tax base. Noting that’s still a main goal, she recently authored a letter asking the council to consider a review of speed limits in residential neighborhoods.

If reelected, she said she hopes to represent her own demographic, as a mother of two school-aged children.

“I appreciate everyone coming and supporting and voting for women who want to have a voice,” she said.

Chadbourne, 60, who finished in the second slot, said she’s thrilled the top two contenders are women.

“We’re the only two [women] in the [at-large councilors] race ... that’s pretty exciting,” she said.

Chadbourne, who is self-employed, has been a councilor for eight years and told The Sentinel last week that her experience is an asset.

If elected for another term, she said she hopes to find opportunities to support more public art installations and promote a more bike-able and walkable city.

Finishing in a near-tie for fifth and sixth Tuesday — knowing the top five in the November election get council seats — were first-time candidates Remy, 30, and Starkey, 27, with fewer than 20 votes separating them.

Both said they’re longtime friends, wish each other the best of luck, and agreed it boils down to what voters prioritize.

“I think we have different ways of looking at problems, so I think it comes down to what voters want,” said Remy, the director of operations finance analysis at C&S Wholesale Grocers.

“I hope that whomever gets on the council does what is best for Keene,” said Starkey, who is executive director of Monadnock Peer Support.

Remy’s campaign is focusing on the tax rate and city budget, with plans to apply his professional experience when examining the latter. But he also hopes to represent constituents in all areas of concern, he told The Sentinel last week.

Starkey said he wants to use his social services background to make Keene a place where “all can thrive.” Part of this would be tackling homelessness, he noted.

“I’m just excited for the next four weeks,” Starkey added.

The municipal general election is Nov. 5. More information on voting is available on the city’s website.


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Winchester man found guilty of sexual assault sentenced to decades in prison

A Winchester man was sentenced Tuesday to 20 to 40 years in N.H. State Prison, after a jury found him guilty last month of sexually assaulting a young girl.

Richard P. Soulia, 58, was sentenced on three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. Soulia — a trusted adult in the girl’s life — was accused of sexually abusing her multiple times in Winchester before 2013.

Soulia has faced sexual-assault allegations before, but was never convicted of them. A previous case ended with a plea to a misdemeanor charge.

Last year, the victim in this latest case, by then a young woman, told police she thinks Soulia first molested her more than a decade ago, when she was around 7 or 8, according to an affidavit filed by Winchester Detective Michael W. Carrier. It continued as she got older, she said.

“I don’t think anything I could say would make him care about what he’s done, or how I feel, or how it’s affected my life since I was a little kid,” she said Tuesday in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene.

An adult in her life was not supposed to act that way, she said. “He was supposed to care about me, and he doesn’t,” she said. “He does not feel bad. And someone that does not feel bad about doing something like that is not gonna care about doing it again to somebody else.”

Morgan Taggart-Hampton, one of Soulia’s attorneys, said Soulia maintains his innocence and plans to appeal his convictions.

She argued for a sentence of 10 to 20 years, noting that even under that more lenient proposal, he would not leave prison before his late 60s. She described him as a hardworking husband, father and grandfather.

Soulia’s wife, one of his daughters and a teenage grandson spoke about the man’s role in their lives and asked Judge David W. Ruoff for leniency. At the grandson’s request, the judge allowed him to hug his handcuffed grandfather.

Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John Webb said only Soulia is to blame if his family suffers during his imprisonment.

“The defendant is the one who created these circumstances, committed these crimes, that takes him away from these family members,” Webb said. “No one else. In that sense, he leaves other victims behind. Society needs to be protected. Children need to be protected.”

Calling Soulia a “predator,” Webb asked for a minimum sentence of 20 years.

Ruoff adopted the prosecutor’s proposal. Under the terms of the sentence, after spending 20 to 40 years in prison, Soulia would have another 10-to-20-year sentence hanging over him for the rest of his life, able to be imposed if he ever reoffends. He must also register as a sex offender.

Commenting on the divergent portraits of Soulia that emerged in the hearing — the hardworking family man; the dangerous predator — Ruoff said perpetrators of sexual abuse often have “a couple different components to their life.”

“These are offenses that are usually kept in the dark closets of families, kept as secrets from everybody else, and it’s not until someone’s actually prosecuted that many of these come out to see the light of day,” he said.

Soulia is facing two additional charges — aggravated felonious sexual assault and misdemeanor sexual assault — in a separate case that remains pending. The alleged victim is the sister of the victim in the first case.

The pending case alleges Soulia assaulted her at least twice between 2010 and 2014, when she was under 13, and once in spring 2018 when, she told police, he stuck his hands down her pants during an outing on a four-wheeler. Soulia had previously stood trial over allegations that he sexually assaulted the girl. It ended in a mistrial in July 2010 when jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on either of the two charges.

While some jurors in 2010 felt the prosecution had proved the case against Soulia, others would not vote to convict him, the jury foreman wrote in a note included in the case file. “They do not feel the state has provided enough evidence.”

Because the proceeding ended in a hung jury — rather than a finding of not guilty — prosecutors could have retried the case, but agreed to a plea bargain that allowed Soulia to avoid prison time.

Soulia was also facing a separate charge of felonious sexual assault at the time, which alleged he touched a 12-year-old girl’s breast in 2009. To resolve both cases, Soulia pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of simple assault.

Though that charge did not explicitly contain a sexual component — it stated only that Soulia touched the 12-year-old girl’s “chest area without permission” — a judge ordered him to undergo a psychosexual evaluation and forbade him from sleeping in the same room as children under 18. Soulia was sentenced to a year in jail, which was deferred and then suspended on condition of good behavior.

After the hearing Tuesday, Winchester Police Chief Mike T. Tollett and Carrier, the detective, said they were satisfied with the sentence.

“I feel that a dangerous predator is finally going to be off the streets,” Tollett said. “… This is a man that has been on our radar for a number of years.”

Those impacted by sexual violence can seek help by calling the statewide sexual-assault hotline at 1-800-277-5570 or, in the Monadnock Region, the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention at 603-352-3782 or 1-888-511-MCVP. You do not need to be in crisis to call.


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Teachers get community support at Keene board meeting

Recent controversy about workplace culture in the Keene School District bubbled up during a meeting of the Keene Board of Education Tuesday, with members of the public speaking in support of staff who are reportedly hesitant to bring forward safety concerns.

About 50 people attended the meeting at Keene High School, many of them wearing T-shirts for the Keene Education Association, the union that represents the district’s teachers.

The union has been working to address a rise in reported employee injuries in recent years, which a school board member and administrator have attributed to increased efforts to encourage reporting of these incidents.

The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the district last month, alleging that two employees, Keene Education Association President William Gillard and member Bonny Nadeau LaRocca, were unfairly disciplined under a federal student-privacy law after communicating concerns about employee safety.

The association contends this disciplinary action has interfered with union activities by discouraging other employees from reporting workplace safety concerns.

The district has denied the allegations, arguing that the two employees violated FERPA — the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act that governs access to student education records — by communicating personally identifiable information about students to people who were not authorized to receive the information.

Both LaRocca and Gillard were flagging incidents at Fuller Elementary School, according to the union’s complaint. After LaRocca used an online form to tell Gillard she had observed a student bring ammunition to school and make a threat that made her feel unsafe, Gillard sent an email, with a representative from NEA-New Hampshire copied, asking for a safety evaluation of the student, the complaint says.

He also emailed parents at Fuller Elementary about organizing a meeting about the administration’s handling of safety concerns, which listed specific incidents he said had happened at Fuller recently. He clarified in the email that he was writing it as a parent of students at Fuller.

N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert H. Malay has said the district can’t comment on confidential personnel or student matters, but takes safety issues very seriously.

Uptick in injury reports discussed

According to Gillard, who is a math teacher at Keene High, the underlying issue is an increase in safety incidents involving employees. Reports of employee injuries have risen sharply in the district since 2016, when 15 injuries were reported. In 2018, 103 injuries were reported, according to data included in the union’s complaint and confirmed by the district in its response.

Gillard was one of several people who spoke during the public input portion of Tuesday’s agenda. He presented recommendations developed by the union for creating “safer schools,” such as providing more training to all faculty and staff, creating an anonymous reporting mechanism and holding listening sessions where administrators are not present.

Above all, the district should make student and faculty safety its first priority, the union argued in the recommendations.

“If students and teachers do not feel safe, they cannot learn or teach. Do not say that safety is a priority. Make it a priority through the actions of the Board and Administration,” the document reads. “Demonstrate to the public how you have done so.”

John McMahon, a retired Keene Middle School teacher and former union officer, praised the employees for speaking up about their concerns.

“Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Gillard saw something and said something — see something, say something — to their credit, and they were punished,” McMahon said. “... I would just like to thank those two whistleblowers.”

Jenna Spear advocated for the union’s sixth recommendation — to hold listening sessions without administrators — and said she’s heard teachers and tutors in the district say that safety concerns raised with administrators go into “a giant black hole.”

“I am not a teacher. I am not a member of the KEA. But I am here to support every single one of these teachers that care about our student safety,” Spear said. “This is a really upsetting thing to know that my kids and my husband are in buildings where safety doesn’t seem to be taken seriously.”

Another district parent, Nora Traviss, echoed Spear’s concerns.

“I agree with the previous commenter about, that there needs to be a form where teachers can feel safe and appreciated and supported to make these comments, because at the end of the day, it’s really the teachers on the ground that know what’s going on in the classroom,” Traviss said. “And so they have to feel that ability to be able to speak out so we can all work forward as a community to solve these problems.”

George Downing, chairman of the school board, thanked those who spoke and said the board will take their comments into consideration. He emphasized that per board and district policy and procedure, the district does not discipline employees for reporting safety issues.

He called the increase in incident reports a “direct result” of administrators’ efforts to standardize the reporting process across all district schools.

“If it continues to double, then the problem is very different than the one that we thought we had. If it goes down, then the efforts are working. If, as I expect that they will stay roughly the same level as we will have just started implementing new safety procedures, then it means that the new reporting system is working,” Downing said.

“And then we would have to get ahold of the data and figure out what it’s telling us and what actions to take and move forward.”

A hearing on the unfair labor practice complaint is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 8:30 a.m. in Concord. The school board’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.