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City Council votes unanimously for Keene police to test out body cams

The Keene City Council has voted unanimously to move forward with a testing-and-evaluation plan to determine whether to equip police officers with body and in-vehicle cameras.

The city will outfit four cruisers and six officers as part of the trial period that will likely start after the November election, according to City Manager Elizabeth Dragon. A report from this evaluation period will be presented to the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee — likely sometime in February, Dragon said.

At Thursday’s meeting of the full City Council, several councilors said implementing body cameras would be a worthy but expensive undertaking. If the council decides to permanently require officers to use the equipment, it would cost about $380,195 over five years, Dragon said.

But as Councilor Thomas Powers noted, hiring a paralegal to handle requests for the video footage would be an added cost.

“Somebody is going to have to be responsible for reviewing all of these and doing a dissemination under [the] Right to Know Law, under discovery, under court cases, et cetera,” said Powers, a former Keene police chief who chairs the council’s finance committee. “So in [the police department’s] proposal that was presented to us, there’s a plan for another paralegal in the city system that would work at the police department on this along with other discovery issues.”

At last week’s finance committee meeting, Police Chief Steven Russo told councilors that the first-year contract for a paralegal would cost around $87,500 and that personnel costs for training on the cameras would add another $14,000. In total, the camera system is expected to cost about $291,000 in year one and $135,000 annually thereafter, he said.

Committee members unanimously recommended last week that the full council move ahead with the testing period.

During this period, which the vendor does not charge for, the city will spend $4,700 to cover overtime costs for officers being trained to use the test cameras. Dragon added that the city is looking into whether there is federal funding available for body cameras.

The decision to move forward with a body-cameras plan is quite timely, said Councilor Terry Clark, who noted that Gov. Chris Sununu’s commission on police reform recently issued a set of recommendations that includes the use of body and vehicle cameras. The commission was established amid calls for criminal justice improvements following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police in May.

Floyd died after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for an extended period of time in the presence of three other officers.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and the other three officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Kiernan Lane and Tou Thao — have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All have been fired.

Floyd’s death sparked global protests, including in Keene. A petition calling for the use of body cameras by Keene police, which drew hundreds of signatures, was submitted to the council earlier this summer.

Body cameras are “something we need to look at very seriously,” Clark said Thursday.

While the cameras are frequently considered a means of holding police officers accountable, multiple councilors noted that the equipment will protect the officers as well.

Councilors Randy Filiault and Mitch Greenwald both urged their fellow councilors to go on a ride-along with a Keene police officer sometime to see the sort of bad behavior they are often faced with. Filiault said the cameras would also demonstrate the patience and professionalism of the city’s officers and that he feels they would come to appreciate having them.

“I actually think a lot of [police officers] are really going to favor it,” he said. “I’ve seen some of the things that they’ve seen, and it’s pretty incredible. And I think it’s only going to favor the department and the citizens of the city of Keene.”


Keene fire Lt. Frank Pierannunzi stretches to trim the limb of a black walnut tree that was interfering with the fire alarm transmission line on Church Street Thursday.


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Race for US Senate
Shaheen faces two challengers in US Senate primary

An incumbent U.S. senator faces Democratic primary challenges from a retired dentist in Keene and a Nashua man who describes himself as “an orthodox libertarian extremist.”

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor, is on Tuesday’s primary ballot alongside Paul Krautmann and Tom Alciere.

In the Republican primary, Don Bolduc, Bryant “Corky” Messner, Gerard Beloin and Andy Martin are running. In addition, Justin O’Donnell of Nashua and Thomas Sharpe V of Salem have filed declarations of intent to run in the November general election as third-party candidates.

Here’s a look at the Democratic field:

Jeanne Shaheen

Jeanne Shaheen, 73, is a native of St. Charles, Mo., who has lived in New Hampshire since the 1970s. She served as New Hampshire’s governor from 1997 to 2003 and has been a U.S. senator since 2009, making her the first woman in U.S. history to have held both positions. In the Senate, she’s finishing her second, six-year term.

Prior to launching her political career, Shaheen earned a bachelor’s degree from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and a master’s from the University of Mississippi, according to her campaign website. She was also previously a small business owner. When she’s not in Washington, Shaheen lives in Madbury.

Her campaign did not follow through on a request for an interview.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shaheen has had a leading role in relief package negotiations, and has been a vocal proponent of more funding for states and municipalities, extended unemployment insurance and assistance for small businesses.

Shaheen’s campaign website says the senator has been in constant contact with representatives from the health care sector, first responders, business owners and others, and knows they still need help. “She is working to ensure they have the resources necessary to weather this crisis and rebuild a stronger economy,” the website says.

Beyond confronting the COVID crisis, Shaheen’s website says her priorities include providing services for veterans, decreasing the cost of health care, addressing climate change and reforming the U.S. immigration system, among other issues.

She has touted her ability to work with colleagues across the aisle, especially in negotiating the CARES Act but also in preserving funding for construction projects at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and boosting resources for opioid treatment.

Paul Krautmann

Paul Krautmann, 72, is a retired pediatric dentist who lives in Keene and moved to New Hampshire after completing his residency in 1979. The Higginsville, Mo., native has been an Elm City resident for 41 years.

He went to dental school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and completed his pediatric dental residency at the Medical College of Georgia. Once in Keene, Krautmann opened Paul J. Krautmann Pediatric Dentistry, which he ran from his Court Street home. In 2001, he began working at Concord Pediatric Dentistry and stayed there until his retirement at the end of 2013.

If elected to the Senate, Krautmann says his first priority would be reining in the nation’s military spending, and that he’d propose halving the Pentagon’s $740 billion budget.

“I don’t see any reason why we need that much money to fund the military,” he said. “I think it promotes war, and I’m anti-war.”

Krautmann has seen the cost of war first-hand. He served in the U.S. Army after being recruited during dental school, and deployed to Germany in 1972. He was in the U.S. Army Reserves until 2005, having achieved the rank of colonel.

In 2004, he deployed to Iraq for four months as a dental officer. He called the conflict a waste of time and manpower.

Krautmann is one of several participants in the anti-war protests most Saturdays on Keene’s Central Square.

He said U.S. forces have long overstayed their missions in Afghanistan and also in Iraq — the latter of which started on the premise that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be nonexistent. One of the major reasons for his anti-war stance, Krautmann said, is that “most wars are based on lies.”

Krautmann also said he supports congressional term limits and said Capitol Hill needs some fresh faces. He said he takes issue with the tendency of government officials to later work as lobbyists, or in the case of military officials, for arms manufacturers.

“That’s a conflict of interest, because they use the fact that they know the people in Congress to unduly influence those people,” he said.

Krautmann supports establishing a universal health care system and examining police training protocols. And he expressed concern about how quickly New Hampshire has reopened after Gov. Chris Sununu issued a stay-at-home order in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said his home state of Missouri opened up quickly as well and is now seeing a spike in infection rates. The jury is still out on whether that will happen in New Hampshire (where cases have declined significantly since May), he said, but he thinks the state should have been more cautious. He also took aim at President Donald Trump, who he said hasn’t managed the pandemic properly.

“I think we can get a better handle on it by testing and by following what the scientists are telling us,” he said, “which is to not gather, and wear masks.”

Tom Alciere

Also running is Tom Alciere of Nashua, who bills himself on his website as an “orthodox libertarian extremist.” He did not respond to a request for comment sent earlier this week via his Facebook page.

In 2001, shortly after being elected to the N.H. House, Alciere resigned amid public backlash to his comments in an interview with the Valley News of Lebanon, expressing support for the killing of police officers, according to a 2001 New York Times report.

Editor’s note: The Sentinel is previewing all contested primary races covering area communities. Tell us what you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for your vote via our Voter Values survey at www.sentinelsource.com/vote.


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Cheshire Medical among three NH hospitals suing over Medicaid reimbursements

Kacavas

Three New Hampshire hospitals on the state’s western border are suing Vermont and the federal government because they say they are paid substantially lower reimbursement rates to treat Vermont Medicaid patients compared to their counterparts on the other side of the Connecticut River.

At stake is more than $2 million a year.

The hospitals — Cheshire Medical Center, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon and Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont — filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Concord, charging that the Vermont Agency of Human Services discriminated against the hospitals. and they say the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved those unfair rates.

The suit is virtually identical to a 2015 action filed by Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, the keystone of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, about the rates it received compared to the University of Vermont Medical Center. In a 2018 settlement, the hospital won comparable rates going forward, resulting in about $10 million a year, but the settlement only involved the two teaching hospitals.

In the new suit, Dartmouth-Hitchcock seeks to extend that parity to smaller hospitals in its network. Alice Peck Day — licensed for 25 beds and Cheshire Medical which is licensed for 160. Valley Regional, which also has 25 beds, joined the suit, but is independent of Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

According to the suit, Vermont reimburses its own hospitals at a base rate of as high $9,273 for a Medicaid patient, but pays New Hampshire hospitals $2,900, a nearly 70 percent difference. It also pays Vermont hospitals twice the amount for “outlier” (more expensive) cases, and reimburses in-state outpatient services at 113 percent, while out-of-state providers get only 82 percent.

The outpatient shortfall alone costs Alice Peck Day $200,000, Valley Regional $70,000 and Cheshire Medical $575,000, the complaint alleges.

The suit also names Michael Smith, secretary of the Vermont Human Services Agency, Seema Verma, administrator of the CMMS, and Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Human Services, which oversees CMMS. It charges that the differing rate schedule violates the Interstate Commerce clause, the Equal Protection Act and the Administration Procedure Act.

“This is an attempt to achieve parity with our Vermont counterpart hospitals for services for Medicare,” said John P. Kacavas, chief legal officer and general counsel at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. “For a long time, our hospitals were paid significantly lesser rates. This lawsuit is an attempt to rectify that, so our providers are treated fairly.”

An Inquiry to the Vermont Agency of Human Service was not immediately returned.


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Federal eviction moratorium could help Granite Staters who lost previous protections

A new federal eviction moratorium could help Granite Staters who are unable to pay rent or are at risk for homelessness.

The new moratorium, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ensures protections for all types of evictions and tenants of all types of housing, and does not strictly apply to pandemic-related hardships. It expires Dec. 31, when tenants must pay all previously unpaid rent.

“In halting evictions, the order will help many people stay in their homes and avoid exposure to COVID-19 in homeless shelters or on the street,” said Elliott Berry, NHLA Housing Justice Project Co-Director. “However, this does not absolve tenants from paying rent, and does not address what will happen to people on January 1, when their unpaid rent is due. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that tenants who are having trouble paying their rent pay as much as they can afford and apply for rental assistance as soon as possible.”

Unlike Gov. Chris Sununu's previous eviction ban, eligible tenants must now sign a declaration form to give to their landlord certifying — among other requirements — that they have already applied for rental or housing assistance. In New Hampshire, that means through town and city welfare or local community action programs.

“I think it’s really important that renters who are having difficulty understand that … the form isn’t like walking up to an ATM machine and pulling out a get out of rent free card. You have to certify that everything in the declaration is true,” said Stephanie Bray, Foreclosure Relief Project Director and a managing attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Since New Hampshire's eviction ban ended July 1, landlord-tenant writs — the first legal step in the eviction process — have increased, according to circuit court numbers. In the week before the ban ended, 41 landlord tenant writ cases had been filed statewide. They spiked to 193 by the week of Aug. 10, but went back down to 120 last week.

Last month, Gov. Sununu vetoed House Bill 1247, which would have offered tenants a six-month repayment plan for rent payments that were missed during the coronavirus, and clarified that tenants would not need an eviction notice in order to file for welfare assistance. In a veto message, Sununu wrote that the bill “adds a major structural problem to an already precarious housing environment.”

According to Bray, under the new federal moratorium, tenants can use the new declaration at any step of the eviction process.

“We would maintain that it can be used up until the sheriff arrives at your door,” she said.

“It is apparent from reading the entirety of the order that the CDC is concerned about making people homeless during a pandemic,” Bray added. “I cannot imagine that the CDC is going to be less concerned about making people homeless in a pandemic in January.”

Those unable to afford rent payments should first apply for assistance at CAPnh.org or through their local town or city welfare office before signing a declaration form. For legal assistance, visit nhlegalaid.org.

The CDC order, effective Friday, Sept. 4, says that putting a moratorium on evictions can be an effective public health measure to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus.


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Jobless claims continue to fall in NH

The number of initial and continuing unemployment claims in New Hampshire is still falling at a substantial clip, though both are still far above pre-pandemic levels

According to the latest data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Labor Department, new claims in New Hampshire for the week ending Aug. 29 fell 17 percent, to 2,137, after going down 13 percent the week before. That’s still roughly four times the number of people losing jobs before the pandemic hit.

Nationally, another 881,000 Americans filed initial claims for benefits last week on a seasonally adjusted basis. It was the first time in a month that fewer than 1 million filed claims.

In New Hampshire, continuing claims for the week ending Aug. 21 were down 3,371 to 43,967, an 8 percent decrease, compared to a 6 percent decline the week before and a 5.5 percent decrease nationally.

Still, that’s more than twice the number of those collecting unemployment before the pandemic. But roughly twice as many people are going back to work than are losing jobs. Many of those receiving benefits as of Aug. 21 are still waiting for the three weeks of $300 federal enhancements they were scheduled to receive as of Aug. 1.

On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu said that the holdup was due to the involvement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where the funds are coming from, and that the Department of Employment Security needed to adjust its computer system to accommodate that.

It’s unclear how long the enhancement will last, because after three weeks, it enhancement will be approved on a week-by-week basis to ensure that FEMA has at least $25 billion to deal with other emergencies.