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Jim Kenyon: Asking a lot of questions

Valley News Columnist
Published: 6/19/2021 10:01:24 PM
Modified: 6/19/2021 10:01:24 PM

In college, I had a journalism professor who — paraphrasing the Chinese philosopher Confucius — liked reminding his students the only dumb question is the one that isn’t asked. With that in mind:

What does Lebanon know that the rest of the state doesn’t?

New Hampshire’s 12 other cities have all dropped their mask rules. Gov. Chris Sununu allowed the state’s mask mandate to expire in mid-April.

But Lebanon’s nine-member council voted unanimously Wednesday to continue its mask decree a bit longer. The council is determined to bring up the rear in following the science.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced more than five weeks ago that it was safe for people who are fully vaccinated to ditch their masks in most indoor settings.

Still Lebanon remains a holdout. Instead of lifting the mandate effective immediately, the council chose to keep it in place until June 30.

“When it comes to public health, it is better to be cautious,’ Councilor Karen Liot Hill said at the meeting.

OK. But when your small city is an outlier from the rest of the state and country (Boston and New York have lifted their mandates), the public can lose trust in elected officials who stubbornly stick to their we-know-best brand of governing.

Are days numbered for Dartmouth’s president?

With all the bungling that’s plagued his administration for the last year, Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon has to be contemplating an exit strategy.

Hanlon could survive the athletic department fiasco, which saw the college cut five varsity sports and then have to bring them back under the threat of a Title IX discrimination lawsuit by female athletes.

He also might be able to distance himself from the Geisel School of Medicine cheating scandal, which turned out to be mirage. It would be easy — and warranted — for Hanlon to blame the mess on Geisel Dean Duane Compton, who after months of insisting the medical school was in the right, dropped honor code charges against 10 students.

In the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, Hanlon could probably be excused as well for his administration’s waiting until May to expand much-needed mental health services for troubled students.

But the combination of three bad missteps?

The college’s Board of Trustees can’t be pleased. A survey of graduating seniors conducted by The Dartmouth, the student newspaper, showed Hanlon’s net approval fell by nearly 51 percentage points between 2020 and 2021. That should also worry trustees.

Then again, as long as Dartmouth’s $6 billion endowment continues to soar, maybe that’s the only number that counts.

Hanlon, 66, is entering his ninth year in Hanover. By college president standards, he’s had a lengthy run.

I’m guessing — and that’s all it is — that Hanlon will announce by fall that he’s retiring in 2022.

Is there a better time to be a Hanover landlord?

With Dartmouth offering a $5,000 bribe (I don’t know what else to call it) to as many as 200 returning students if they agree to give up their dorm rooms in the fall, the town’s real estate tycoons must be salivating.

Students who haven’t already locked into leases could find themselves in bidding wars for off-campus apartments, which are already in short supply.

Dartmouth claims it’s facing an on-campus housing crunch, which is a good public relations move. The college knows the last thing that Hanover residents want to see is more rowdy students moving into their pristine neighborhoods.

So when Dartmouth eventually proposes bulldozing the former fairways of Hanover County Club, which the college shuttered last summer, to make room for student housing, townspeople are less likely to object.

What’s the holdup, Lebanon PD?

It’s been nearly 13 months since Lebanon police placed Lt. Richard Smolenski and senior patrol officer Paul Gifford on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Last month, the public finally learned what the investigation was about. In a court affidavit, Smolenski was accused of using fictitious online accounts to stalk a former girlfriend, a lieutenant with Grafton County’s Department of Corrections, and threatening to release details about their relationship. He’s pleaded not guilty to one misdemeanor count of stalking.

After Smolenski’s arrest, Lebanon police changed his status to administrative leave without pay. By that time, however, he’d collected his $1,900 weekly salary for close to a year without working.

Gifford got dragged into the investigation when Smolenski allegedly created a Snapchat account to send threatening messages to the woman under the online name “Paul G.”

Gifford was cleared of wrongdoing in the investigation conducted by Grafton County Sheriff’s Department, but he hasn’t been allowed to return to duty.

Why’s that?

“There is still an internal process ongoing,” Lebanon Chief Phil Roberts responded in an email when I asked about the case Thursday. “We hope to have a conclusion to this within a couple of weeks.”

Gifford remains on paid administrative leave, collecting a weekly 40-hour paycheck of about $1,300.

By my math, the city has paid out roughly $170,000 to Smolenski and Gifford combined to stay at home.

Taxpayer money aside, it’s not fair to Gifford to keep him in the lurch for this long. He’s lost out on overtime and extra-pay opportunities, such as traffic details. More important, he’s had to live with a cloud hanging over his career for more than a year.

When I called Friday, Gifford declined comment.

I understood. Until Lebanon police wrap up an investigation that should have been over by now, my questions will have to wait.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


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