Orford Unrest a Backdrop to Register of Deeds Race

  • Brad Bailey. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Grafton County Register of Deeds Kelley Monahan speaks at the Grafton County Primary Candidates Forum in Canaan, N.H., on Aug. 27, 2018. Monahan faces a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Liz Gesler. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/30/2018 12:03:52 AM
Modified: 10/30/2018 10:39:58 AM

North Haverhill — Grafton County voters will decide next week whether to send Register of Deeds Kelley Monahan back to North Haverhill for another two-year term, or replace her with state Rep. Brad Bailey, a Republican from Monroe.

The race is being watched especially closely in Orford, where Monahan, a former Planning Board member, has sparred with some other residents over a housing project in town.

Both candidates said on Monday that they intend to improve access to information and better protect historic documents if elected to supervise the office, which is responsible for keeping deeds and other county land records. The job pays about $60,200 annually.

The two also stressed a need to maintain good customer service.

“I’ve made it critical what we work through situations with people on the telephone,” Monahan said in a phone interview. “A lot of people like to do business the old-fashioned way still, especially up here in some of our smaller towns.”

The 58-year-old Monahan, a Democrat, became Register of Deeds in 2010 after defeating incumbent Register Bill Sharp, a Lebanon resident who planned to run for the seat again this year. He died in August at 76.

 Over the last eight years, Monahan said she’s fought to keep records safe, and attempted to balance the need to offer easy, online access to documents with respect for peoples’ privacy.

The office, she said, acts as a gatekeeper between the public and their right to view titles, deeds and any legal document that might affect their property.

“The criminals of the world have all the time in the world to sit there on the couch and look through and try and match data,” Monahan said of the county’s website, which attempts to deter criminals with a nearly $7 charge to search a document.

She also touted her tough negotiation skills, which results in most of those fees coming back to county coffers.

“It’s just really continuing the continuity of leadership so transactions can continue seamlessly,” she said of the election.

Meanwhile, Bailey, 56, is finishing up his third-term in the House representing a seven-town district that includes Littleton, where he owns an insurance office affiliated with State Farm. He intended to take a break from politics, but was recruited by fellow Republicans to run in Sharp’s place.

“I think sometimes people become too ensconced in their positions and they feel as though ‘Nothing can get done unless I’m there,’ ” he said. “I just don’t think that’s really healthy, so I really felt that I wanted to take a break.”

Bailey said he would meet with county employees and the business community to find where the office could improve.

“My idea would be to meet with all the stakeholders,” he said. “I would want to sit down with all of the people in the office of the Registry of Deeds and individually have a meeting with them to say ‘OK. What do you think works? What doesn’t work? What can we do better?’ ”

Bailey would also work to better protect some of the county’s historical documents, some of which date back to the 1700s.

“I’m concerned because it’s my understanding that those documents are not really in the type of location that they should be based on their historical significance.”

Monahan agreed, saying there are plans to inventory and document historical records. However, she said, there’s been push back from county politicians to budget a larger, more expensive restoration project.

While Monahan received more than 4,600 votes last month to fend off a primary challenge from fellow Orford resident Liz Gesler, she’s also taken heat in her hometown, which backed Gesler, 123-42.

Monahan’s recent comments on the Orford Listserv and threats to sue the Conservation Commission have alienated many residents, said Ruth Cserr, an Orford Democrat who ran twice in the 2000s for a seat in the New Hampshire House.

Monahan is an opponent of the Rivendell Interstate School District’s plans to convert the former Orford Academy into apartments for seniors, and has taken to Orford’s online forum to criticize those who support the effort.  

“I will now let the many defamation of character lawsuits speak for me,” Monahan wrote on the Listserv on May 17. “… Everyone needs to take a breath and think before you speak and act. I have had it, as my attorney now knows.”

And in an email to a Valley News reporter on Sept. 4, Monahan said she would be seeking legal action against a number of people in Orford who she said were targeting her because of her opposition to the “corrupt project.”

“I am suing them all, by the way,” she wrote.

As of last week, no such lawsuits have been filed.

Cserr, who plans to vote for Bailey, said Monahan’s comments on the online forum have bothered people in town.

“She would disagree (with people) but it would be pretty nasty,” Cserr said during a phone interview. “It has just been hurtful and disruptive to the town generally.”

Monahan also accused the Orford Conservation Commission of using its meeting minutes to damage her reputation, according to an email she sent on Oct. 8 to Commission Chairman Ted Cooley.

In the email, which was obtained by the Valley News through a public records request, she asks to meet with the panel with her attorney present.

“I seek to clear my name in this first step of action with the Town of Orford,” Monahan wrote.

That same day, Cooley informed fellow commissioners of his request that police be present at future meetings where the matter was to be discussed.

He did not respond to an email requesting comment last week, and Monahan declined to comment on the matter when she was asked about potential legal action.

Monahan also drew attention while campaigning last month in downtown Littleton.

Ashley Knowles, owner of the Juicy Girls Juice Bar, called police the morning of Sept. 26 to report that Monahan was “very aggressive and yelling at her” during a campaign stop at the business, according to a report from the Littleton Police Department.

Knowles said on Monday that Monahan barely introduced herself before the county official “very aggressively came at me” and began “badmouthing” Bailey, whose insurance office is next door to the juice bar on Main Street.

“She was just super intense,” Knowles said during a phone interview. She said that Monahan was asked to leave the store three times before complying.

No charges were filed, and Monahan, when asked about the incident, remembers the conversation differently and said she wasn’t even aware that police had been called.

Monahan said she entered the juice bar and introduced herself to Knowles, before explaining that she is running for office against “your neighbor here, Brad Bailey.”

“I was feeling a little bit beat up and I think it showed, and she just flipped out a little bit and said that my energy hurt her,” Monahan said, adding she then apologized and left.

Monahan later on Monday called the police report an “attempt to damage my reputation.” 

Elsewhere in Grafton County, voters are being asked to settle a contested election between Republican Sheriff Doug Dutile and Democrat Jeff Stiegler, the current police chief in Bradford, Vt.

County Attorney Lara Saffo is stepping down, and Marcie Hornick, a public defender from Littleton who won a contested Democratic primary to succeed her, is unopposed in the general election.

Republican Paul Mirski and Democrat Rebecca Brown are running for the Register of Probate Office.

Lebanon-area County Commissioner Wendy Piper is unopposed, but Haverhill-area Commissioner Linda Lauer, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Piermont Selectboard member Randy Subjeck. And Plymouth-area Republican Commissioner Omer Ahern Jr. is being challenged by Democrat Marcia Morris.

News staff writer John Gregg contributed to this report. Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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