Just two days before longtime Keene City Councilor Terry Clark’s sudden resignation earlier this month, a fellow councilor requested city officials investigate his conduct.
In a Feb. 1 letter to the council and Mayor George Hansel, Councilor Mike Remy wrote that Clark had recorded audio and video during a Jan. 21 nonpublic session between the council and City Attorney Tom Mullins without alerting the participants or gaining their consent. The council had gone into a nonpublic session to receive legal advice from Mullins.
“After being caught, Councilor Clark promptly stopped recording and issued an apology for his actions,” Remy wrote in his complaint, which The Sentinel obtained Friday through a right-to-know request. “Secretly recording this session is in direct conflict with the purpose of a legal adjournment, which allows councilors and the city attorney to discuss legal matters in a privileged and private setting.”
Additionally, Remy said the recording may have violated New Hampshire’s two-party consent law, which requires permission from all people involved in a conversation before it can be recorded.
On Feb. 3, Clark, who represented the city’s third ward, submitted his resignation letter to the council and Hansel, stating that he was stepping down to focus on his role as a Cheshire County commissioner. Now that Keene’s sweeping renewable-energy plan has been adopted, he added that he wanted to shift his attention to other environmental initiatives.
“Keene’s Energy Plan has passed and I am fully engaged in my work on the Cheshire County Commission to work on further advances in renewable energy use, among other things,” Clark wrote. “Time is precious these days, so it is with gratefulness and satisfaction that I resign my position as councilor from Ward 3 effective immediately.”
Clark had recently finished a term as Cheshire County treasurer and was elected to the county commission in November, serving Keene, Marlborough and Roxbury.
Also included in Remy’s complaint was a copy of an email a Keene resident had sent to councilors, Hansel, Mullins, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon and Police Chief Steven Russo this past summer. In the Aug. 9 email, Don Curran alleges he saw Clark “bully and harass” a clerk at a city gas station for not wearing a mask. The clerk informed Clark that he had a breathing condition, but Clark “proceeded to tell the clerk that ‘it doesn’t matter’ and that the clerk can ‘not work’ at the store if he has a medical condition,” Curran wrote.
Reached by phone Friday, Clark acknowledged recording the meeting, which he said took place on Zoom, but called it an honest mistake. While saying he was unable to discuss the content of the nonpublic conversation, he said he felt it was important and that he’d wanted to record it so he “could remember it,” but that he deleted it right away once he was told it wasn’t appropriate to do so.
“I spent 11 years on the council, I didn’t do anything that didn’t have the public’s best interest in mind,” Clark said Friday night. “It was nothing sinister. It was just a mistake.”
As for the allegation that he harassed the clerk, Clark said he only asked the employee if he was aware of the city’s mask mandate — which was still new at the time — and acknowledged that he said the clause in the mandate exempting people with medical conditions doesn’t apply to store employees. He said there was no harassment, threats or yelling involved.
The ordinance, which the City Council passed amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Aug. 6, says wearing a mask is “not required for any person with a medical or developmental condition” that could make wearing a face covering a health threat. It also says these individuals shall not be required to provide proof of any such conditions.
While saying his originally stated reasons for resigning are true, Clark referred to Remy’s letter as “the last straw” and said he had become frustrated with many of the council’s policy decisions. He said he feels that his work at the county level will be more rewarding.
Remy said he didn’t send the letter with an end goal of causing Clark to resign, but to “facilitate a conversation around what happened.” Now that Clark has stepped down, Remy said, any investigation into his actions would be out of the council’s hands.
Hansel said the city had turned the matter over to police, and it’s their call whether to follow up. As of Friday, he said, he’d heard nothing about whether an investigation had been opened. He added that he was glad Clark chose to resign rather than having the council go through its disciplinary procedure.
Mullins, the city attorney, said the matter was first sent to the Keene Police Department, and later referred to N.H. State Police. Turning the issue over to state authorities ensures there is no perception of a conflict of interest, he noted.
Neither State Police nor Keene Police Chief Steve Russo were immediately reachable for comment Friday night.
During the City Council’s regular meeting Thursday, Hansel announced that the filing period for people interested in filling the seat Clark left vacant on the council will begin at 8 a.m. Feb. 24 and run through 4:30 p.m. March 9. An election by the council will take place during its March 18 meeting, which will be held via Zoom.
Candidates will have five minutes to lay out their qualifications and reasons for wishing to serve, and then the field will be narrowed down to two finalists. One of the finalists must receive a majority vote to be elected.