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Local educators say COVID-19 vaccine rollout running smoothly
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When Alan Gross initially registered to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine through a state-run system, he got an appointment for April 7.

“I was concerned. That seemed a long time off,” said Gross, a 66-year-old special education teacher at Keene High School. He was eligible to receive the vaccine under Phase 1B of New Hampshire’s vaccine rollout, which includes people 65 and over.

“... As a teacher, you’re worried about [COVID-19],” he said. “Even though we’re social distancing, even though we’re wearing masks, we’re still around a lot of people every day.”

So, Gross said, it was welcome news when New Hampshire launched Phase 2A of its vaccine rollout, making K-12 educators and child-care workers eligible for the shot starting March 12, and he was able to move his appointment up to last Thursday.

“It was very simple,” Gross said of the process to sign up for a vaccine appointment through N.H. School Administrative Unit 29, which covers Keene and six nearby towns.

After informing school leaders that he would like to get a vaccine and providing some personal information, Gross was able to sign up for an appointment at the local vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene, operated by the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network. He got his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine right after school Thursday.

That process has played out for thousands of Monadnock Region educators in the last week, and so far, area superintendents and public health officials say the vaccine rollout is running smoothly for school staff.

“I think it’s going as well as can be expected in a global pandemic, with ever-evolving details and moving pieces,” said Tricia Zahn, director of Greater Monadnock Public Health Network.

Since Phase 2A opened, Zahn said the network has scheduled vaccine appointments for more than 2,300 educators and child-care workers. The goal, she said, is for all local educators who want the shot to be fully vaccinated by the end of April. That time frame includes the 14-day period after receiving the second dose before people are considered fully inoculated.

SAU 29, which employs about 1,000 people, had more than 530 staff members sign up for vaccine appointments since they opened last weekend, Superintendent Robert Malay said.

“Basically, in a one-week window, that’s absolutely phenomenal,” he said, adding that all SAU 29 staff members who want a vaccine should get their first dose by the end of the month.

Educators eligible for the vaccine through Phase 2A can register for appointments either with their schools or through the state’s Vaccine & Immunization Network Interface, or VINI, which went live Wednesday.

“The state’s website seems to be working pretty well,” Monadnock Regional School District Superintendent Lisa Witte said of VINI. “By all accounts, everybody who has gone to sign up that way has said, ‘Yeah, it’s working pretty well’.”

Administrators like Witte and Malay said they’re asking any staff members to inform them when they sign up for a vaccine appointment through VINI, so they are not taking up two slots.

“We don’t want to be counting people twice or scheduling people twice. However, we have a very collaborative region,” said Zahn, who added that schools districts and Greater Monadnock Public Health Network have been communicating well throughout the Phase 2A rollout.

Educators now eligible for the vaccine come in addition to school staff, such as nurses and people over 65, who were able to get the shot during earlier phases. Ann Diorio, director of human resources for the Hinsdale School District, is over 65, and got her first dose of the vaccine March 6, providing “a sense of relief,” she said.

Overseeing the process of getting vaccine appointments for the roughly 150 Hinsdale staff members who want one, Diorio said the rollout of the vaccine for educators gives hope that teachers, students and their families can regain a sense of normalcy sooner rather than later.

“I think, right now, people are getting COVID fatigue, and I think this is a step in the right direction to help people,” she said, “and not only the whole school community, but also the whole community at large, that we’re getting through this finally, after a year of this.”

The majority of local school districts have operated under a hybrid model this year, with students getting a mix of in-person and remote instruction.

Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, superintendent of the ConVal School District, said “the vaccination piece is huge in getting schools back to a place of more normalcy.”

The vaccine rollout — coupled with updated CDC guidance Friday that 3 feet instead of 6 feet of space between students is acceptable as long as other COVID-19 protocols like masking remain in place — means students at ConVal Regional High school could return to full in-person classes soon, Rizzo Saunders said. At a school board meeting Friday night, she said families should expect updated information on instructional models early next week.

The Monadnock Regional School Board is scheduled to vote at its April 6 meeting whether to switch from the district’s hybrid model to full in-person classes starting in early May. Witte said she thinks the early success of the vaccine rollout for school staff will help guide the board’s conversation then.

“I think that’s a huge piece of puzzle,” she said.

In SAU 29, Malay said school leaders are focused on getting all staff members vaccinated before considering when schools will fully reopen. The ultimate goal, he said, is to get back to normalcy by the beginning of next year.

In the meantime, educators like Gross, the special education teacher at Keene High, say the vaccine gives them hope that they will get to see their students safely, and more often, soon.

“I don’t know if it’s going to happen this year, but certainly it’s a big step in the right direction to coming back to full school sometime in the not-too-distant future,” he said. “... Hopefully, we’re at the tail end of this.”

Jaffrey Youth Services Librarian Andrea Connolly, at front, shares a story Friday with a students from Jaffrey Grade School, along with at-home classmates, using the Meeting Owl (on stool in center). It’s a new technology that allows in-person and remote students to interact in a hybrid environment. The Meeting Owl includes a 360-degree camera and microphone, which become the eyes and ears for remote students. Julie Perrin, director of the Jaffrey Public Library, is seated at front right.

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Keene wants more say in operation of Cheshire TV
  • Updated

The City of Keene has given notice to Cheshire TV that it will end its contract with the public-access station unless the station agrees to amend a portion of the agreement, according to a letter sent to the organization by City Manager Elizabeth Dragon.

In a letter addressed to CTV Executive Director David Kirkpatrick, Dragon explains that the city was triggering the termination process outlined in the agreement, which allows the contract between the city and the station to end without reason so long as there is a 120-day notice.

However, she said the matter could be resolved if the organization agrees to amend its articles of agreement to make both Keene and the town of Swanzey — which also recently terminated its contract with CTV — the sole voting members of the organization with votes proportionate to the percentage of money each contributes to CTV. However, the city is considering a possible adjustment that would allow CTV's membership to have some representation on the organization's board of directors, Dragon said Monday.  

She said the proposed amendment would bring CTV's operations in line with similar public, educational and government (PEG) stations in New Hampshire, saying that the organization's current set-up "is not the norm."

“This amendment would allow Cheshire TV to continue with its operations in its present corporate form, and it could persuade the Town of Swanzey to continue its funding and participation in Cheshire TV,” she wrote in the letter. “More importantly it would provide transparency and oversight by the communities financially supporting the organization.”

Cheshire TV is a public-access television station that airs a variety of locally produced programming. Established in 2005, the station was originally funded via a cable franchise fee paid to the city of Keene by area cable providers. But in January 2019, the city executed a new agreement, in which Cheshire TV receives a flat rate of $15,150 each month. CTV provides the city with streaming services, including airing public meetings.

Dragon said the reason for the city’s decision to cancel the agreement is due to recent activity by the nonprofit’s board of directors. A group within CTV’s membership — people who have TV shows along with other community stakeholders — ousted most of the previous board members in a contentious meeting earlier this year, following months of concern about the old board’s handling of the CTV bylaws.

But Dragon said in her letter that the city has been made aware of “serious violations” of the bylaws and articles of incorporation by the very people who led the charge to vote out previous board members for not following the bylaws. She also says there are “serious concerns related to Cheshire TV members who played lead [roles] in orchestrating the board turnover, and who are now financially benefitting from their own actions.”

“It has become clear that the organization, as currently incorporated and operated, lacks the transparency and oversight required to protect the substantial investment in the organization being made by the community,” Dragon wrote.

David Kirkpatrick, now CTV’s executive director, a paid position, was one of the members involved in efforts to overturn the old board. He had previously been employed as the public-access station’s field production manager but was fired in July following a series of social media posts that were critical of the organization.

Asked Sunday about the city’s concern that some of those who led the charge to oust old board members are now benefiting from the change, Kirkpatrick emphasized that there has been no inappropriate action taken by the current board. He said Dragon doesn’t fully understand the situation and described it in her letter “in a misleading way.”

He said the issue “speaks to the need for both sides to come together in dialog, to work together, try [to] reach an agreement that works for everybody, and most importantly that preserves the integrity of our mission.”

Kirkpatrick said the proposed amendment to CTV’s articles of agreement was not reasonable. On Thursday, he told The Sentinel that he sees the proposed amendment as an attempt by the city to “take over” CTV and that the current contract says that the city will not be involved in the operations of the organization. Under the existing agreement, the city has the right to appoint one person to serve on the CTV board of directors.

In a Feb. 10 letter to Dragon, CTV board members Ruzzel Zullo and Jodi Newell requested a meeting with the city for the purpose of discussing what brought about the recent turnover of the board of directors. However, they said they would like to examine other options besides the one proposed by Dragon, which they feel would take power away from CTV’s membership.

“We can envision a number of alternatives to the total replacement of members with the communities serving as they only members for legal purposes,” they wrote, “and we would like to explore them with you in person.”

In a Feb. 17 response, Dragon says she’d be happy to meet with the board members but also said the reasons for the turnover are “somewhat irrelevant” and discussing them would put “the city in a position of untangling ‘he said’ ‘she said’ accusations.” She also said she confirmed with Swanzey that the town would not be interested in entering a new agreement with CTV unless the amendment proposed by the city is accepted.

Swanzey Town Administrator Michael Branley confirmed this, saying he was supportive of the proposal outlined in Dragon's letter to CTV. 

During a Thursday City Council meeting, Keene Mayor George Hansel referred a request from CTV — to hold a public hearing on the termination of the agreement — to Dragon. Councilor Randy Filiault challenged that, saying that not allowing public discussion is not transparent, while Hansel said that the review of ongoing contracts is not in the council’s purview.

The council voted 11-4 to uphold the mayor’s ruling.

Hansel said that if representatives from CTV are interested in addressing the full council about the city’s relationship with the organization they can do so. Dragon said in an email Saturday that she intended to follow up with CTV to see if they would like to be placed on an upcoming council agenda.

Kirkpatrick said he intends to request a public hearing again.

This story has been updated to correct the description of the proposed amendment and add additional information about it, as well as to confirm Swanzey's position on the proposed amendment. 

N.H. state senators cut data collection from police bill

Calls for more information on how New Hampshire police interact with people of color have fallen on deaf ears in the state Senate.

This week the Senate voted to advance a bill to address inequities in the criminal justice system and increase police transparency, but they removed one its most fundamental elements — data collection.

The bill, SB96, was amended to specifically remove any requirement for police to record and report racial information about who is arrested, searched or stopped by law enforcement. To aid with data collection, racial identifiers were to be added to driver’s licenses.

Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican and chair of the Judiciary Committee whose amendment removed the data collection, said she found the original bill “very troubling.”

“If we were to suggest something like this five years ago, we would’ve been accused of racial profiling,” she said. “We should not be doing this, we should just not be doing it.”

Advocates for racial reform and members of the governor’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency, which maintained that the state needs a better way of identifying systemic racism by police before it can correct any problems, reacted with sharp criticism.

“A solution is being dismissed and turned away when there’s really no conceivable reason why,” said Joseph Lascaze of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and a member of the commission. “I just don’t understand why.”

The bill was drafted in response to recommendations from the commission, which included 14 members from diverse backgrounds, including law enforcement. One of the key recommendations was to gather data on the race and ethnicity of those who interact with law enforcement. All of the commission’s recommendations were endorsed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

A requirement to collect this data was included in the original text of SB-96, but Carson’s amendment removed it and instead calls for the formation of a committee to explore the feasibility of collecting of such data.

The amendment, which was ratified on March 10, drew a rebuke from criminal defense lawyers in the state as well as members of the LEACT commission itself. In a statement, commission members, including James T. McKim of NAACP Manchester, Ronelle Tshiela of Black Lives Matter Manchester, criminal defense representative Julian Jefferson, and Lascaze condemned the amendment.

“This will serve only to worsen the perception that our political leaders stand opposed to confronting racism and racial injustice in the Granite State,” they said. “We cannot understand the rational or imperative for removing this language from the bill.”

Lascaze said the intention of having racial information on the driver’s licenses has to do with the way data would be collected. The data that the state does collect is through the Department of Safety and the National Incident Based Reporting System. This information, examined previously by the Monitor, showed that people of color were arrested at higher rates than white people in the state.

The data is limited, Lascaze said, by the fact that it is only related to arrests as opposed to traffic stops and other law enforcement interactions. Additionally, since it is self-reported information, some law enforcement agencies do not comply with data-gathering and, in some cases, do it incorrectly.

Lascaze recalled a specific experience when he was pulled over by a police officer and was incorrectly reported as being white.

“This is what we’re trying to address,” said Lascaze, who is Black. Having race be part of a driver’s license would help ensure the correct information was recorded by law enforcement.

After the bill was amended, Robin Melone, president of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, asked the Senate to reinstate the data collection measure.

“It is inexplicable that the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken steps to thwart collection of sought-after data about how (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) experience policing in New Hampshire,” she said.

Melone said she and the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers believe that the LEACT recommendations “should be adopted without modification,” and that Carson’s concern that data collection should be studied is “without merit.”

“The only reason to obscure data is to ignore what it says,” Melone said. “And the available data paints a clear picture.”

Sen. Rebecca Whitley, a Concord Democrat, spoke in support of passing the bill, including the recommendations from the Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency commission.

“While the legislature has a unique role in crafting policy, we should not be substituting our own judgment in this case for the role of so many who spent countless hours coming together to accomplish difficult, but necessary work,” she said.

Sen. Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat, also objected to the amendment.

“This was a special commission convened of experts, subject matter experts, a matter in which many of us are not experts, and so I think there’s an experience of a lot of people in our state that we cannot sit here and pretend we understand,” she said.

Carson was unmoved and defended the amendment.

“This commission does not overrule this legislature,” Carson said. “We have been elected to look at this material and make a decision and that is what we have done, that is our role. We do not give up our role as legislators just because a commission made a decision about what they think we should do.”

Leonard Harden, a criminal defense lawyer and a board member of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the formation of a study committee is an attempt to turn a blind eye to the issue.

“I think they want to hide from the data, they want to obscure the data, they don’t want the information,” he said.

Harden noted that he was speaking on his own behalf and not in his role as a board member for the association.

“I think it just kicks it down the road and it keeps us saying, ‘Not in New Hampshire, you know, we’re different.’ ” he said. “I don’t think that we are different.”

Despite objections from Senate members, the altered bill was approved. Whitley and Sen. Jay Kahn, a Keene Democrat, who had objected to the amendment, said the bill as a whole was still worth passing despite the change. The bill will now head to the House.

Lascaze vowed this is not the end of this issue. He and the ACLU would continue to fight for the original bill as it advanced through the Legislature.

“Right now,” he said, “we’re in our corners, and the bell is about to ring in the House and we’re going right back in.”

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Family, friends remember former Keene mayor Dale Pregent

In December, Dale Pregent’s sons asked him what he wanted for Christmas. His answer didn’t surprise them.

Unknown to sons Tim and Greg, but true to form, Pregent had contacted Wheelock School to see if he could help a local family that was hurting economically. The former Keene mayor was discreetly putting together a food box and suggested his sons donate gift cards to the cause as his Christmas gift.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” says Tim Pregent, 55, who lives in Garner, N.C., a suburb of Raleigh. “That’s what he did and that’s what he’s always been doing. He never asks for anything.”

Philip “Dale” Pregent, 84, died last week at the Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. He had broken two vertebrae in a fall in early February, and complications from that injury led to a deterioration in his health.

Current Keene Mayor George Hansel has requested that all flags be flown at half mast until Thursday in honor of Pregent. He also issued a statement, part of which reads: “Dale was an incredible friend to many in Keene and served as one of the city’s best cheerleaders and ambassadors. Even though his time as mayor corresponded with challenges related to the 2008 economic crisis and frequent testing of the city’s authority by concerned citizens, Dale’s friendly and humble leadership style helped Keene address these challenges while staying focused on the future.”

Plaudits have poured in via Facebook and almost all of them share Hansel’s sentiments: He was a nice guy, an honest person and a tireless worker. Pregent often described himself as a cheerleader for the city.

“He had a knack for conversation. He was kind, generous, a great story teller, at times outspoken and knowledgeable about the damndest, most random stuff,” wrote Kurt Steelman of Steelman Productions, whose office is in Central Square. “He had drive. I admired it, and I considered Dale a good friend.”

Pregent served two terms as Keene mayor, starting in 2008. Not only did he have to contend with the start of the Great Recession, he succeeded the late Michael E.J. Blastos, Keene’s longest-serving mayor. Blastos, the gregarious owner of The Pub restaurant, often held court there and ubiquitously promoted Keene. Pregent was the quiet successor, joining Blastos at his table, yet dogged in pursuing goals such as completing the city’s comprehensive master plan.

“His personality led him to be a good public official,” Tim Pregent says. “He didn’t have an agenda — he wanted to do what was best for people.”

A Keene native, Pregent didn’t enter local politics until he successfully ran for City Council in his mid-60s. That drive to learn never wavered — 10 years later, at the age of 74 — he earned a bachelor of arts degree in social sciences with a specialization in political studies at Keene State College. Pregent had dropped out of Keene State in 1958, but then-president Helen Giles-Gee convinced him to complete it when the pair were greeting incoming freshmen one fall.

“I hope people are encouraged if they haven’t finished their education. I hope they do it,” he said shortly after earning his degree.

Pregent’s lifelong passion for antiques became his career. He was a well-known local antiques dealer, having run several businesses in a career spanning more than 50 years, including at the Colony Mill Marketplace. Pregent was part of a local antique culture that featured several prominent local dealers and auctioneers.

“Our house was never furnished with the same furniture for very long,” Tim Pregent says with a laugh, noting that one of his favorite oak dining tables lasted all of two weeks. “We’d wake up on a Sunday morning and go to Brimfield (one of the biggest flea markets in New England), and you never knew what you’d come back with. Not everybody has that kind of childhood.”

But when Pregent decided to run for City Council when retirement seemingly beckoned, even his family was caught off-guard. “I didn’t see it coming,” Tim Pregent says.

They were even more surprised three terms and six years later when Pregent announced he was running for mayor. “We’re like, ‘Whoa, what?’ That’d be cool — our dad as mayor,” Tim Pregent says.

Pregent defeated Bill Beauregard in the 2007 election and successfully won a second term before deciding to step down. Still, he later returned to City Hall for another stint as an at-large city councilor.

Those who served with him say he was an excellent mayor who earned their respect. “He loves the job, but it’s very time-consuming, and I think he probably deserves a rest,” City Councilor Cynthia Georgina said when Pregent left the office. “I think he’s put more into it than a lot of mayors.”

Former council member Jim Duffy, who served with Pregent, told The Sentinel last week that Pregent always tried to bring people together for the common cause of making the city a better place. “He was a humble, strong man, a man of faith, and he really went out of his way to be kind to everybody,” Duffy said.

In addition to the completion of Keene’s comprehensive master plan, Pregent cited switching city vehicles on biodiesel and improving the city’s bike-path infrastructure as his most notable accomplishments. Some have suggested that naming the multi-use South Bridge that crosses Routes 12 and 101 after Pregent would be appropriate.

Born in Keene, Pregent’s mother, Beatrice, died when he was a child and his father, Philip, later remarried. Pregent and his wife, Ann Foster, had two sons and divorced when Tim was in 5th grade. She died three years later, in 1980. Though he never officially remarried, Pregent and Jan Lincoln of Keene have been together for decades.

As a student in Keene, Pregent loved all sports, but especially basketball. He played varsity basketball for Keene High and even at Keene State before he dropped out. He picked up golf when he was in his mid-40s, and soon had a membership at Bretwood Golf Course. But coaching his own kids took priority. Tim Pregent says having his father always around made an indelible impression, and he emulates his father today in coaching his own kids.

“Sportsmanship and lose gracefully — that was my father. That’s the kind of guy he was. And that’s what I teach my kids now,” Tim Pregent says. “I’m the person I am today because of my father.”

He recalls their house being a neighborhood hangout for his friends, who, he says, “loved my father dearly.” Pregent was notorious for cooking “healthy foods that really weren’t,” Tim Pregent says. Green beans with Velveeta cheese was a favorite; hot dog lasagne with generic spaghetti sauce was another. When Tim chose to travel and moved to Colorado after high school, he talked to his father every day, and both sons remained close to him until the end.

Pregent was a regular at The Pub and grew close to Blastos, who urged him to run for mayor when he decided to leave office after four terms. They shared similar ideals, Blastos once said, in that they were both very open, very accessible and believed in a transparent government.

Upon leaving office, Pregent said he was proud to serve. It’s truly an honor to be the mayor of a city like this,” he said. “When I talk to mayors in other cities, we’ve already done things they’re only thinking of.”