The Valley News has been selected to add two journalists — a photojournalist and a climate and environment reporter — to our newsroom through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Jim Kenyon: Tensions Still High in Orford

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 10/30/2018 11:27:51 PM
Modified: 10/31/2018 12:07:35 PM

What is it about Orford public meetings that sometimes brings out the worst in town residents? Or, for that matter, the town’s public officials?

In May, it was a Selectboard meeting that turned ugly — to the point that a board member lobbed an F-bomb in the direction of a resident who in turn grabbed the elected official by the shirt collar.

The altercation, which other meeting attendees quickly broke up, started over — what else? — the town’s road crew, and the job it was or wasn’t doing,

Now, it’s the Planning Board that’s turning into a free-for-all.

On Oct. 9, the Planning Board held a public hearing on its revised master plan — the general guide used to steer development — and then voted, 6-1, to adopt it. At the next evening’s Selectboard meeting, Jim McGoff, the Selectboard’s representative to the Planning Board, reported that he’d been physically threatened and verbally abused by another Planning Board member, Terry Martin, after the vote.

Martin, a retired banker, was the sole dissenter. After the meeting, Martin “told me that I had ruined the town and that I was the worst Selectman ever,” McGoff said when we talked by phone on Monday. “He came up to the (board) table and put his finger in my face. I’m not a very big guy, but if he had put that finger any closer.”

I called Martin to get his side of the story. I didn’t hear back.

Unlike the incident at the Selectboard meeting in May, no clothing was ripped or criminal charges filed.

I’m not sure that should be considered progress.

“We expected more conflict than we had,” said McGoff, explaining the reason for the Planning Board having a state trooper and a Grafton County sheriff’s deputy on hand. (Orford’s lone officer, who was hired this summer, is still in training at New Hampshire’s police academy.)

It was quite a police presence for a public hearing that drew an audience of four residents. One attendee, Carl Schmidt, later said an email to about 15 residents that the low attendance was “no doubt due to the fact that the meeting had not been well-publicized.”

Schmidt proposed the hearing be rescheduled, but Chairman Paul Carreiro wouldn’t go along. In the hearing’s minutes, Carreiro, who I couldn’t reach this week, said “information efforts had exceeded the legal requirements.”

I’ve written a couple of times about Orford’s lack of civility at public meetings. On Monday, I called Tom Steketee, a former Selectboard member who has lived in town for 20 years. He reiterated what he’d told me this summer. “Right now, Orford is as angry a community as you can imagine,” he said.

Demographics are a big part of it, he said. Orford’s population increased to 1,269 from 793 residents between 1970 and 2016, according to the town’s revised master plan. Over the years, the town has shifted from an agricultural and logging community to more of a suburb for people who work in Hanover and Lebanon, Steketee said.

“It’s not Mel Thomson’s town anymore,” he said, referring to the late governor whose no-holds-barred brand of conservatism put Orford on the state — and national — map in the 1970s.

McGoff, who owns a salvage yard on the edge of town and traces his roots to Orford, agreed with Steketee that the community is changing, and not for the better.

In Orford, the Planning Board (McGoff’s wife, Deb, is an elected member) often is the battleground for the conflict between natives and newcomers, he said. McGoff doesn’t doubt that some people wanted the revised town plan to reflect a tougher stance on development. In other words, they want the town to eventually adopt some form of zoning.

“We have these people who come to this little town from someplace else, and they think zoning is the answer,” McGoff said. “If you want to build a chicken coop, they think you should have to ask for permission to do it.”

The zoning-or-no-zoning debate in Orford — and many other small towns — probably won’t be settled anytime soon.

But a phone conversation I had the other night with Lawrence Hibbard left me thinking that Orford’s chances of settling its disputes more civilly are improving.

Hibbard, a 62-year-old logger, was the Orford resident who scuffled with Selectboard member Paul Goundrey in May. Goundrey reported the incident to state police (the town didn’t have its own officer at the time), alleging Hibbard had bruised his collarbone and ripped his shirt.

Hibbard was charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor, to which he pleaded not guilty this summer. When I checked on the case on Monday, I learned a plea deal had been worked out earlier this month. Hibbard had pleaded guilty to a violation, which carried a fine and court fees totaling $310.

Most important, since the charge was reduced, Hibbard won’t be saddled with a criminal record.

Both Hibbard and Goundrey, who resigned from the board shortly after the incident, have told me their behavior left much to be desired that night.

“At the end of the day, everyone needs to try to get along,” Hibbard said. “Hopefully, the town will move on.”

He seems to have done so. Now if only the rest of the town can learn from his example — at least before law enforcement is called to intervene.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2020 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy