Claremont City Council to probe one of its own over drama with auto dealer

  • Jim Contois

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 11/11/2022 12:40:26 AM
Modified: 11/11/2022 12:40:34 AM

CLAREMONT — The City Council voted Wednesday to appoint a three-member advisory panel of councilors to look into the conduct of Councilor Jim Contois, who has been accused of trying to have the chief of police lift a no-trespass order issued against him by business owner Chris Gomes.

Assistant Mayor Deb Matteau and councilors Spencer Batchelder and Andrew O’Hearne will conduct the “fact-finding” inquiry into accusations that Contois improperly used his position on the council to seek removal of the no-trespass order. Contois has not denied making a call to Police Chief Brent Wilmot but told the Valley News last month that he was calling to tell Wilmot that he was not on Gomes’ property, the Ford dealership on Charlestown Road, in late October but in the right-of-way on the road, which is not private property. “They had erroneous information,” Contois said last month.

Contois said he was taking photos for his appeal of a wetlands permit issued to Gomes in late September by the state Department of Environmental Services for dredging of the area for a second dealership.

Gomes had a different version of events of Oct. 19 when he argued with Contois about being on his property.

“He was 200 feet up my driveway,” Gomes said last month. “He told me it was public property because it was a business. Then he said he wasn’t leaving until I called police, so I did.”

Gomes said Thursday he has witnesses who will confirm what he said about where Contois was standing and what he said. Contois was not criminally charged with trespassing but was instead issued an order to stay off Gomes’ property. He also said he was not aware Contois had appealed the DES decision until after the Oct. 26 council meeting.

At that meeting, Gomes called Contois’ attempts to lift the order an abuse of power and wanted him to resign. At the same meeting, O’Hearne asked the council to look into the accusations under city charter rules, which do allow for the removal of a member under certain circumstances including “misconduct in office.” The council met behind closed doors with its attorney before Wednesday’s council meeting in what was termed a “non-meeting.” Mayor Dale Girard said Thursday he could not divulge the reason for the meeting under “attorney-client privilege.”

The motion by Councilor Jon Stone to conduct an inquiry said the panel should review the following allegations: improper influence; violation of provision of Claremont City Charter, Article 3, Section 29 non-interference; dereliction of duty for failure to inform the council of relative information that they possess while having a council level discussion.”

The last allegation refers to Contois telling the council in October that the Historic District Commission, of which he is a member, had not yet decided whether to recommend demolition of two homes on Main Street when in fact it had voted for demolition, as indicated in the Sept. 22 meeting minutes posted online. Some councilors were critical of the commission for not making a decision because of a possible loss of some funding for the project and publicly apologized when they learned the truth.

Gomes, who has begun work dredging the wetlands area in the front of his dealership and expects to have the building up next spring, said the council’s decision to appoint a panel suits him fine.

“I think it is great,” Gomes said Thursday. “In my opinion it is fair. Everybody should have their due process.”

Responding to statements by Contois that his comments at the Oct. 26 City Council meeting were “lies and inflammatory,” Gomes told the council Wednesday that Contois was the one not being truthful.

“One thing I am not is a liar,” Gomes told the council Wednesday. “Everything I said (Oct. 26) was true.”

A timeline for when the panel is to report back to the council has not been set.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Contois’ wife, Rebecca MacKenzie, defended her husband for trying to protect a valuable ecosystem through his appeal.

“Instead of criticizing my husband for his right to speak up, I would like the council to recognize his concern for the natural health of our community and to protect it fiercely,” she said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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