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Panel hears from fellow Claremont city councilor on no-trespass order

  • Jim Contois

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 12/1/2022 10:20:42 PM
Modified: 12/1/2022 10:18:18 PM

CLAREMONT — City Councilor James Contois told a panel of fellow councilors Wednesday that he asked the chief of police to rescind a no-trespass order issued against him because it was based on “false information.”

“Police said I was on private property. I wasn’t,” Contois told Assistant Mayor Deb Matteau and councilors Andrew O’Hearne and Spencer Batchelder, referring to an altercation he had with the owner of Ford of Claremont that led to the order. “They issued a no-trespass order and I wanted to have it rescinded because it was based upon false information.”

Contois said Police Chief Brent Wilmot told him anyone can have a no-trespass order issued against anyone else, for no particular reason.

“When he told me that I said, ‘Thank you very much for the information,’ and the call was over,” Contois said. “I did not try to use my influence.”

Contois said he went to the dealership on Oct. 19 to take photographs for his appeal of a wetlands permit issued to the dealership by the state Department of Environmental Services.

Chris Gomes, owner of the Ford dealership on Charlestown Road, is building a second dealership on his property and needed to dredge the wetlands, which are located near the road.

The committee made no decisions on Contois’ conduct, which could lead to the full council removing him from office under city charter rules regarding misconduct, because it still has not received any statements or other evidence from the police department. It plans to request that information through the police commission, which has authority over the department.

The panel, appointed by the City Council last month, has been tasked with determining whether Contois tried to use his position as a councilor to persuade police to rescind the no-trespass order requested by Gomes. It received sworn statements from Gomes, others at the dealership and Contois.

On Wednesday, Gomes’ statement, read by Matteau, said he was a passenger in a vehicle on Lane Ridge Road, which borders the dealership property to the south, when he noticed someone taking photos “a little farther than halfway up” the dealership driveway. He soon realized it was Contois and asked him to leave.

When police did arrive, Contois had retreated to the road shoulder, but Gomes reiterated that “when I first saw him he was more than three-quarters of the way up the Ford property.”

Contois said police told him that Gomes owned to the pavement, which Contois said he researched and said a “professional” told him the property survey showed the property line did not reach to the paved portion and that is why he called Wilmot to have the order rescinded.

When Matteau showed Contois a map of the property and asked whether he was on the dealership’s driveway when he was initially confronted by Gomes, Contois said, “I won’t answer that.”

Gomes provided sworn statements by two employees and his wife, who was driving the vehicle when her husband saw Contois on the driveway.

Cynthia Gomes said in her statement when her husband told Contois to leave the property, Contois refused and “insisted that he was not leaving until the police were called to remove him. Mr. Contois also insisted that the driveway to the Ford dealership was public property because ‘it’s a business.’ ”

The committee agreed that where Contois was standing was less important than what he said to Wilmot and did not pursue the issue. O’Hearne said he wanted to hear any recorded statements Contois made to police, likely through dispatch, as well as Wilmot’s statement on the call.

When Gomes learned of Contois asking police to rescind the order, he went to the council in late October and accused Contois of an “abuse of power,” demanding he resign.

Gomes’ complaint led to the creation of the panel, which is also looking at whether Contois, a representative to the Historic District Commission, gave the council misleading information about the possible demolition of two Main Street buildings. Councilors are expected to report any actions taken by boards or committees they sit on. Contois told the council on Sept. 28 that the commission had not decided whether to approve the demolition of the buildings when in fact it had done so on Sept. 22, according to HDC minutes.

“Mayor Girard asked if there had been a decision made by the HDC regarding the demolition requests; Councilor Contois responded that the Commission had not reached an agreement yet,” the council minutes of Sept. 28 state. When asked why he did not tell the council, Contois said he does not speak for the commission, the Oct 12 council minutes show.

On Wednesday, Contois offered a different explanation. He said a “certificate of appropriateness” had not been issued and that is a requirement, he thought, before demolition.

“I was told a decision is not made until a certificate of appropriateness is issued,” Contois said. “I felt that it was not in my purview to report anything that happened in that meeting until a certificate of occupancy had been issued.”

Matteau told Contois he gave the impression no decision was made. “Nothing was said about a certificate of appropriateness. We were all, in my opinion, misinformed. You had information and you (later) shared it with the mayor,” Matteau said.

When the panel completes its work it will report to the full council, which could decide to hold a hearing on the possible removal of Contois from the City Council.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.


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