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May 14. 2013 8:53PM

Keene officials to meter fillers: This is about public safety not revenue

KEENE — City officials said a lawsuit against a group filling parking meters before city parking enforcement officers can issue tickets is not about money, it's about safety.

"This is not about revenue. This is not about the city losing any money," City Manager John A. MacLean said Tuesday.

People plugging parking meters with coins, after all provides revenue to the city, he added.

"This has always been about safety and the contract we have with our employees," he said.

Parking enforcement officers as well as the public reported that the harassing behavior by members of the group calling themselves Robin Hood of Keene had the potential to cause an accident, MacLean said.

There were reports of people coming in and out of traffic and parked cars that raised "legitimate concerns that someone could get hurt out there," he said.

The city is also concerned about protecting its employees from harassing behavior and freeing them from interference in the performance of their duties, Maclean said.

On Monday, James Cleaveland of Keene said the Robin Hooders would be vindicated in court by the extensive videotape recordings of their activities.

"He is an accountant by day and Robin Hood on Saturday," said Ian Freeman about Cleaveland, both men are named in the suit.

The lawsuit describes confrontational and harassing behavior by the group.

"That's pretty ridiculous and there's plenty of video to prove that isn't true," Freeman said.

The city, though, has its own video evidence to provide in court.

Over a four-week period starting in mid-March, the city paid private investigator Peter "Sturdy" Thomas, a retired Keene police captain to video tape the group at work, said William A. Prokop, assistant city manager/human resources director.

Thomas was paid $1,339.67 for 46.5 hours of work paid out of the city's safety and security budget.

Thomas is one of the private investigators the city hires when it needs to run a background check, Prokop said.

He was brought in to gather the video evidence because citizens were concerned about safety on the city sidewalks, Prokop said.

Harassing behavior was being reported not only by city employees, but by the general public, he said.

"We wanted to have video proof of what was being done and make sure our employees and taxpayers were not infringed upon," Prokop said. "This has always been about safety and the contract we have with our employees."

MacLean said while the so-called Robin Hooders had posted videos of their activities online, Thomas was brought in so that city officials could collect unbiased information about what was taking place.

"We recognized that this was becoming a very serious situation, our employees were becoming very upset, the general public was very upset," MacLean said, hiring Thomas was about "having our own information into the mix to what is actually happening out there."

Freeman said, though, the city doesn't have a case.

"If there was a case for harassment they would have brought criminal harassment charges and they haven't done that," Freeman said. "They would have loved to have charged anybody with anything and they don't have a case."

To view footage collected by the Robin Hooders, Freeman said people can go to the YouTube channel Fr33mantvraw.

Since reported by the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday, the story has spread online starting with the Washington Times and to the United Kingdom's Daily Mail.

"The story's gone international now," Freeman said, saying he was interviewed by several reporters Tuesday.

Cleaveland is also expected to appear on Fox and Friends Friday morning, he said.

Freeman is a blogger on the Free Keene website.

On May 2, the city filed a lawsuit against six citizens who are part of a group who have dubbed themselves Robin Hood of Keene.

In the case the city asks the court to prohibit residents Kate Ager, Ian Bernard, aka Ian Freeman, James Cleaveland, Graham Colson, Garrett Ean and Peter Eyre from coming within 50 feet of the city's three parking enforcement officers "during the performance of their employment duties for the City," the lawsuit says.

The group patrols downtown armed with video cameras and pockets full of change to fill expired parking meters before a city parking enforcement officer can issue a ticket.

Members of the group carry cards they leave under windshield wipers reading, "Your meter expired; however, we saved you from the king's tariffs, Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Please consider paying it forward," and includes an address where donations for the cause can be sent. They also leave flyers that inform people how to fight a ticket in court.

mpierce@newstote.com


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