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Hooksett seeking to bring early end to police commission

HOOKSETT — With Hooksett’s three police commissioners resigning after voters chose to phase out the board by the start of next year, the town now hopes to speed up the plan to eliminate the commission with the help of state lawmakers.

“I think we should, to use my daughter’s description, rip off the Band-Aid,” said Councilor Todd Lizotte, who has been a vocal supporter of the controversial board, which was criticized for its micro-management of the police department.

Hooksett voters went to the polls on May 14 and approved a petition to abolish the Police Commission by a 389 to 329 vote. The original petition called for dissolving the commission immediately, but the warrant article was amended to give commissioners 240 more days, until Jan. 9, 2014. Town administrator Dean Shankle would then start overseeing the police department just as he does other town departments.

But two days after the election, the three commissioners — chairwoman Joanne McHugh and members Clark Karolian and Kenneth Scherer — resigned and put Hooksett in the position of having a police commission with no commissioners.

Although Shankle has already collected the names of residents willing to serve out the term, the Town Council voted to ask the state Legislature if Hooksett could eliminate the commission prior to the date approved by voters.

“I saw the 240 days as a courtesy to the commission, so we would not be just throwing them out the door,” said Councilor James Levesque.

The additional time was meant to give commissioners the chance to complete the work they were doing with consultants who were hired to help the town overhaul the police department.

But Councilor Susan Lovas Orr said she worried about going beyond what voters approved.

“I am concerned about overriding the voters’ will,” said Orr. “They voted on this exactly as it was written.”

Still, the rules governing how the police commission functions make it difficult to move forward. Only members of the commission can fill a vacancy on the board, and with no one in place to fill those seats, the town would have to wait until July 1 to appoint a commissioner who would then choose two other members.

The commission oversees department personnel issues and any spending that exceeds $2,000.

The council voted to give Shankle administrative responsibility for the police department and, on the advice of State Rep. David Hess, who was at the last council meeting for another matter, they agreed to ask the Legislature to approve an early end for the commission.

Hess told council members he had talked with State Sen. David Boutin, who planned to attach an amendment to another bill that would abolish the Hooksett Police Commission immediately.

Hess added that lawmakers need to make sure that all the proper procedures are followed to ensure last-minute amendments succeed.

“I was under the impression that the ducks are in line and the last duck is in the water,” he said.

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