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New plaque at Brattleboro Civil War monument to reflect service of Black and 'substitute' soldiers
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BRATTLEBORO — The town plans to hold a June 19 (Juneteenth) dedication of a plaque that will correct Brattleboro’s Civil War monument to recognize the service of Black soldiers, as well as of substitute soldiers who served in place of wealthier town residents.

“People are left off of monuments because it was fashionable in the day ... there was no thought that there was Black Civil War vets,” said Curtiss Reed Jr., a Brattleboro resident, founder of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail and a member of the committee to correct the memorial.

The plaque is being created after Joe Rivers, a history teacher at Brattleboro Area Middle School, worked with years of students to establish an accurate number of Brattleboro citizens who served in the Civil War.

Rivers and his students, working with the Brattleboro Historical Society and using names listed in newspapers from the time, located 427 soldiers who enlisted from Brattleboro, contradicting the monument, which states 385 men enlisted.

At least 56 of them were killed, according to Rivers.

The new plaque will indicate that approximately 450 soldiers and sailors served from Brattleboro. According to Rivers’ research, determining the number of substitutes — soldiers who fought in place of wealthy men who paid to avoid service — has been difficult.

He and his students counted 35 substitutes, while Mary Cabot’s “Annals of Brattleboro” states 55 Brattleboro soldiers were substitutes.

Rivers and three of his students, Priya Kitzmiller, Avery Bennett and Annabelle Thies, brought the middle-schoolers’ research to the attention of Peter Elwell, then Brattleboro’s town manager.

And according to Elwell, one of them asked him, “What are you going to do about it?”

Elwell started a committee of community members, including students who did the research, to correct the record. The committee decided the new plaque should feature words versus something visual and symbolic.

It will display a multi-paragraph explanation, giving information about the monument on the Brattleboro Common and also telling the fuller story, according to Elwell.

The plaque will state that the monument’s north-facing side, which lists Civil War battles fought by Brattleboro soldiers, does not include those fought by 22 Black soldiers from Brattleboro — battles such as the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, the Battle of Fair Oaks and the Appomattox Campaign in Virginia. Black soldiers also served in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation freeing all those enslaved in rebellious states.

“This monument and the statements at the 1887 dedication ceremony ... failed to recognize the Civil War service and sacrifice of African Americans, working class laborers, and those who served as substitutes for privileged White men who chose not to serve,” the plaque will state.

The plaque will also discuss the image on the memorial. The image depicts a Union and Confederate soldier shaking hands, with the Union soldier handing emancipation papers to a kneeling Black man.

“This image reinforces a stereotype that credits ‘civilized’ White men for benevolently ‘giving’ freedom to a grateful and subservient enslaved individual, obscuring the centuries-long struggle by Africans to oppose and fight slavery in the Americas,” the plaque will note.

The dedication ceremony’s date — Juneteenth — is a federal holiday originating in Texas and commemorating the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston.

Reed says the new plaque will bring the record up to date. Whether the decision to leave Black soldiers’ service off the monument was conscious or unconscious is unknown, he added.

“Black history is Vermont history,” he said, “... it’s important for people to know that part of their history is hidden from them.”

A public dedication ceremony will be held on Sunday, June 19, at 2 p.m. on the Brattleboro Common. Members of the committee will speak at the ceremony about the importance of the new plaque.

This article has been changed to correct the description of the Emancipation Proclamation.

'Extraordinary challenges for renters and homebuyers' in NH
  • Updated

The latest Housing Market Report, issued Monday by the N.H. Housing Finance Authority, describes a market in “turmoil, buffeted by rising interest rates and economic uncertainty that presents extraordinary challenges for renters and homebuyers.”

“The market is at a crossroads,” said Executive Director Rob Dapice. He explained that by raising interest rates the Federal Reserve has sought to cool the overheated housing market by dampening demand, but at the same has increased the cost of home ownership beyond the means of more and more households.

Introducing the report, Dapice notes, “For decades, the production of new housing has failed to keep pace with demand in our state. It would take at least 20,000 housing units to achieve a balanced market, meaning a 5 percent rental vacancy rate (New Hampshire’s hovers at 1 percent) and a six-month supply of homes for sale (currently less than one month). The most obvious solution to our state’s housing challenges,” he continues “is to build more homes and remove excessive zoning obstacles that hinder this from happening.”

Meanwhile, data presented by the N.H. Housing report and echoed by the N.H. Association of Realtors, indicates that lack of sufficient inventory, both existing homes listed for sale and new units under construction, continues to sustain record high housing prices, which have been augmented by rising financing and construction costs.

According to the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market National Survey, interest rates on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage jumped from 3.1 percent at the end of 2021 to 5.23 percent by May 2022. In New Hampshire, this represents nearly a 30 percent increase in the monthly principal and interest payment on a home priced at $400,000 with a 5 percent down payment, excluding taxes and insurance, from $1,623 to $2,093. Rates rose to 5.5 percent in June, increasing that monthly payment to $2,158.

At the same time, the report notes that the cost of building materials has increased 35.6 percent since the onset of the pandemic. The cost of building materials alone has jumped 19.2 percent year-over-year, and 35.6 percent since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this year the National Association of Home Builders estimated the cost of building a two-bedroom single-family home, in New Hampshire, including permitting, material and labor costs, at more than $500,000.

Housing affordability index

The housing affordability index, calculated by the NHAR, measures whether a median household earns enough to qualify for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage to purchase a median priced single-family home, assuming a down payment of 20 percent, without paying more than 25 percent in principal and interest. An index of 100 or more indicates sufficient income to qualify. Since 2005, when the index was introduced, it has seldom dipped below 150 and in 2013 neared 300. In May, when the median sale price of single family homes kept to $460,000, the index fell to 73.

The N.H. Housing report also presents data indicating that those earning the median wage in a number of essential trades and professions find themselves far short of the means to purchase a median-priced home.

For instance, a firefighter and a machinist earning median wages of $46,004 and $49,502, respectively, could afford to pay $167,000 and $180,000 for a home — less than half the median price. And if they shared a household with an elementary school teacher earning the median wage of $60,057, their combined incomes would not be sufficient to afford a median priced home.

Data drawn from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act shows that the share of loans used to purchase second homes increased in all 10 counties of New Hampshire between 2018 and 2020. Mortgages for second homes represented 45 percent of all loans in Carroll County, 33 percent in Grafton County, 29 percent in Coos County and 28 percent in Belknap County. The Economic Policy Institute reports that 90 percent of non-primary residential units are owned by the wealthiest fifth of American households.

An indeterminate share of these second purchases were made by homebuyers from other states, more than half of them from Massachusetts. Altogether, they accounted for a quarter of all sales from 2016 to 2019 before rising to 28.5 percent in 2020, 31.6 percent in 2021 and 28.8 percent in the first five months of 2022.

N.H. Housing will issue its 2022 Rental Cost Survey next month.

Jan. 6 hearings
Trump ignored repeated warnings from Barr, advisers that election fraud claims were ‘bogus’

WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and former Attorney General Bill Barr recounted in video depositions their repeated admonitions to former President Donald Trump that his election fraud claims were groundless, in the second hearing this month by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection focused on the former president’s decision to spread false allegations of election fraud.

Several of Trump’s closest aides in the White House and his campaign told the committee of their growing dismay when Trump dismissed multiple warnings between the Nov. 3, 2020, election and Jan. 6, 2021, that the claims he pushed had been investigated but could not be proved.

In a deposition presented at the hearing, Barr recounted a conversation he had with Trump the day the Electoral College met and voted, in which the president told Barr new purported evidence of problems with voting machines in rural Michigan would assure Trump would serve a second term.

“I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact with ... he’s become detached from reality,’” Barr said. “On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would tell him how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts are. My opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud. And I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that.”

Similar to the first hearing, Monday’s presentation heavily relied on records and clips of testimony from depositions. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., led the hearing with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., laying out what happened behind the scenes with the Trump campaign on election night that led to the president’s decision to declare victory that evening — even though he was repeatedly told the results did not back his assertion.

“It was far too early to make any calls like that. Ballots were still being counted, ballots were still going to be counted for days. It was far too early to be making any proclamations like that,” Stepien told the committee in a recorded deposition, which was played at the hearing after he had a family emergency and withdrew from testifying in person.

Stepien, who was Trump’s final campaign manager, said that the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pushed Trump to announce that he had won anyway.

In video testimony released Monday, former Trump aide Jason Miller testified that a “definitely intoxicated” Giuliani spoke to the president several times on the evening of the election and was the only one in the Trump campaign circle advocating for a victory declaration before the night ended.

“Effectively, Mayor Giuliani was saying, ‘We won it. They’re stealing it from us. Where did all the votes come from? We need to go say that we won.’ And essentially that anyone who didn’t agree with that position was being weak,” Miller testified.

At 3 a.m. on election night, Trump gave a speech claiming he’d won and that there was an attempt to steal the election from him.

Former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who was involved in the network’s decision to announce that Joe Biden won Arizona on election night, was also called to testify at Monday’s hearing. He explained the so-called “red mirage,” an election phenomenon in which Republicans appear to be in the lead in early returns because they tend to vote in person, while Democrats tend to vote by mail or absentee vote, and those ballots are counted later.

Trump would have been better off “to play the Powerball” than betting on winning the election after losing Arizona, Stirewalt said.

Stepien told the committee in his deposition that he had warned Trump in 2016 and again in 2020 of the red mirage and said that by Nov. 7, the chances of him winning the presidential election were “very, very, very bleak.”

The committee also played clips of Stepien saying the Trump campaign couldn’t verify the fraud claims the president was making in public, and by the second week after the election, Trump had largely given over responsibility for proving fraud to Giuliani.

In his deposition, Barr said the Justice Department looked at many of the claims being made but did not find evidence of fraud that would change the election results. He recalled a Nov. 23 conversation with Trump in the Oval Office in which Trump asked why the Justice Department wasn’t doing more.

Barr said he told Trump that it was the campaign’s responsibility to raise concerns about fraud in court and that the “Department doesn’t take sides in elections and the department is not an extension of your legal team.”

On Dec. 1, Barr told an Associated Press reporter that there was no evidence of election fraud that could change the election outcome.

“It was time for me to say something,” Barr said. Afterward, he went to a meeting at the White House expecting to be fired, warning his secretary that she would have to clean out his office.

“The president was as mad as I’ve ever seen him, and he was trying to control himself,” Barr said. He paraphrased Trump as saying, “Well, this is, you know, killing me. You didn’t have to say this. You must’ve said this because you hate Trump.”

Barr also recalled a Nov. 14 meeting with Trump in which the president presented him with a copy of a forensic audit report on election machines in rural Antrim County, Mich., noting that “the report means that I’m going to have a second term.” That report has been widely dismissed by election experts as inaccurate and highly partisan, and a hand count of ballots in the county confirmed the certified results of the election.

Trump announced Barr’s resignation that same day.

“I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit, I mean, that the claims of fraud were bullshit. And, you know, he was indignant about that,” Barr said.

The second panel of witnesses included conservative election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Byung J. “BJay” Pak, and former Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt. Pak and Schmidt told the committee about their investigations into election fraud and determination that it did not occur, despite Trump’s claims otherwise.

Ginsberg discussed how Trump failed to prove fraud in court, laying the foundation for the committee’s next hearing. The panel will cover the pressure Trump put on the Justice Department to say that fraud had occurred and how he attempted to replace the acting attorney general with a Trump supporter when he refused to comply.

Of the 62 court cases that were brought after the election, half were quickly dismissed at the procedural stage, Ginsberg said.

“The simple fact is that the Trump campaign did not make its case,” Ginsberg said. “In no instance did a court find that the charges of fraud were real.”

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With state grant, Cheshire County sheriff hopes to have body cams by late summer
  • Updated

The Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office plans to outfit all of its deputies with body-worn cameras this summer with the help of state funding recently approved by the N.H. Executive Council, Sheriff Eli Rivera said Monday.

That office is one of four local law-enforcement agencies that the council awarded matching grants from the state’s new Body-worn and Dashboard Camera Fund earlier this month to buy the equipment.

The Executive Council also awarded $50,000 to the Keene Police Department, $4,319 to the Langdon Police Department and $3,000 to the Hinsdale Police Department for body cameras.

However, Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said Keene does not expect to use these funds since it expects to receive more than $400,000 from congressionally directed spending for cameras. Keene Police Chief Steven Russo could not be reached for comment.

The allocation of more than $700,000 to 29 departments from the body-worn camera fund was a key initiative of the state’s Law Enforcement Accountability and Transparency (LEACT) commission.

Gov. Chris Sununu established the commission in 2020 amid national calls for police reform after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer that May.

Advocates say body cameras help curb misconduct and hold bad actors accountable by recording police-civilian interactions. But, while body cameras have been shown to reduce civilian complaints, research into whether they reduce use of force by law enforcement is largely inconclusive.

The Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office plans to use the $47,500 from the state, plus an equal match from the county government, to buy 11 body cameras for the office’s deputies, according to Rivera. The sheriff’s office has not previously used body cameras, he said.

“They will not only protect our deputies, we’ll also have more transparency on how we do our business,” he said.

The cameras will help provide assurances to the public that information coming from the sheriff’s office is accurate while also protecting the deputies with a record of their actions if a complaint is filed by a citizen, Rivera said.

All uniformed personnel in the office will be equipped with the cameras from BodyWorn by Utility, a Georgia-based company, according to Rivera. He said BodyWorn cameras are used by police departments throughout New England, including N.H. State Police and the Manchester Police Department.

Rivera said he hopes the equipment will be purchased by July so the new body-camera program can be rolled out by late summer. The BodyWorn system can livestream video footage back to the sheriff’s office and automatically activate the cameras for certain types of calls or actions, such as when a deputy draws his firearm, he said.

Because cameras are already common on businesses and homes, the sheriff’s office operates under the assumption that deputies are already being recorded in most situations, but body cameras will add another level of transparency, Rivera said.

The Hinsdale Police Department has 10 body cameras — which are more than five years old — and plans to use the state funds and matching funds from the police budget to buy four new cameras and an additional charging station, according to Chief Charles Rataj.

He said the cameras help the department “make sure that we get video and audio recording of everything that happens so that way we know that it is fair for the state or the citizen — that way we can say, ‘This is exactly what happened.’ ”

With the new equipment, Hinsdale will be able to outfit its entire police force with body cameras while fully staffed with 10 full-time officers, Rataj said.

Though it has never had all those positions filled, if it did, the three part-time officers and animal-control officer could remain outfitted with cameras in addition to full-time officers, Rataj said.

The extra cameras would also afford a backup in case one of the old cameras breaks, he said.

Rataj said the department plans to purchase the new cameras from Axon, the same Seattle-based company where its current cameras are from.

Noting the equipment gets banged around as officers work, Rataj said, “I don’t know how long the existing ones are going to last so to put some brand new [cameras] into our inventory is probably a good idea.”

Meanwhile, the Langdon Police Department plans to use the state funds and a match from the department’s budget to purchase two body cameras, according to Langdon police Lt. Jonathan DeLisle.

Due to staffing issues, DeLisle said he is the only officer currently employed by the department but that this will make a camera available when a new officer comes on board.

“It was a good opportunity, especially for a small department such as ours where the budget is extremely low and tight,” he said of the state grant. “We normally wouldn’t have the money to outfit body cameras or cruiser cameras.”