Friday, January 30, 2009

Grants awarded to nine Concord area non-profits

The Bagan Foundation has awarded $19,850 in year-end grants to nine non-profit organizations serving the area’s social service and cultural concerns.
Grantees include CATCH Neighborhood Housing, Community Bridges, The Friendly Kitchen, and The Friends Program as well as the Concord Boys & Girls Club for their Art Department, the Concord Public Library Foundation for the Children’s Room Multicultural Collection, the Concord Community Concert Association, and the Granite State Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inside the House: The Concord School District Charter

State Rep. Rick Watrous

An unusual 90 minute meeting occurred Monday in an unheated classroom at Conant Elementary School. The school district invited the school board, Concord city councilors, and Concord’s state representatives (including myself) to a breakfast meeting to discuss pending legislation. Superintendent Chris Rath presided, asking Rep. Steve Shurtleff and Rep. Jessie Osborne to explain their bills amending the Concord School District Charter.
Among the approximately 30 people, I noted seven state reps, three city councilors, Mayor Jim Bouley, state Sen. Sylvia Larson, the majority of the school board and several former school board members. Unfortunately there were no media or members of the general public present to hear the frank but civil dialogue over the proposed legislation.
On Tuesday the House Municipal & County Government Committee met in open executive session to consider House Bill 33 [] which “amends the composition of the board of education of the Concord school district, subject to the approval of the Concord school district voters.” This bill, sponsored by Shurtleff, would offer Concord voters a referendum in which they could choose to change the current election system of all school board members being elected at-large, to a system of members being elected from Concord’s three districts — resulting in more direct representation.
Previously, on Jan. 14, the committee had heard public testimony from citizens and state reps. (including myself) supporting the bill, and past and present school board members opposing the bill. Now — with several Concord citizens, school board members, and school superintendent Rath listening in — they debated the merits of the bill. Vice Chairman Rep. Raymond Gagnon summed up one school of thought: the committee ought to pass the bill in order to “let the citizens of Concord decide” the representation issue in a referendum.
However, a vote on the bill was soon sidelined by confusion over the Concord school charter. Unlike other towns, in Concord the school district has its own unique charter, being completely autonomous and separate from the city government. After 40 minutes of debate — without having the charter itself to refer to — the committee moved onto other bills while a copy of the charter was attained [].
Later in the day the committee examined the charter and became further perplexed, calling in Secretary of State Bill Gardner to explain it. Upon his examination, Sec. Gardner declared the Concord school charter to be unlike any other and that it would take Legislative action to change it and put it more in line with other charters. After more discussion and head scratching, the Municipal Committee put off a vote on the bill.
Next week the committee will find themselves pondering many of the same issues when House Bill 319 [] forces them to again consider amending the one-of-a-kind charter of the Concord School District. That hearing is set for Feb. 3 at 2:30 p.m. in room 301 of the Legislative Office Building.
All interested citizens are invited.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Page to Stage, Act V, on Feb. 1

PAGE TO STAGE, a theatre project fostering new works by New Hampshire authors, will present five one-act plays by Playwrights, Ink, a Concord writers’ group, as the "Fifth Act” in the series on Sunday, February 1, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Concord City Auditorium. The event is free and open to all as a Sunday afternoon salon with dramatic desserts.

The Playwrights, Ink members have been honing their latest project, short one-act plays centered on a single theme, “It’s Over”, for submission in a national theatre competition. The Page to Stage event provides a unique opportunity for the playwrights to see and hear their creations as performed readings, and to engage the audience in spirited feedback.

The group’s five presenting playwrights, area residents who serve on the English and writing faculties of the NH state university system, have created five individual pieces to dramatize “It’s Over”. The authors and their plays include:
Tom Dunn – Heartbeat
Jane Hunt – Doll House
George Kelly – Facing Backwards
Alan Lindsay – Soup’s On
Dana Biscotti Myskowski – In Morning
The new plays will be performed by a cast of actors well known to New Hampshire audiences, including Betsey Cox-Buteau, Chris Demers, Erik Hodges, Kathryn Hodges, Alex Picard, and Douglas Schwarz.

Act VI of the series on Sunday, March 1, will feature New Hampshire’s “Moose of Humor” in a new role, as acclaimed author Rebecca Rule debuts her new play, Cross Cut, drawn from her work with the oral histories of the Berlin, N.H., millworkers.

The P2S series is co-hosted by The Friends of The Concord City Auditorium and The Community Players of Concord, N.H., and supported by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. The project considers works for presentations ranging from readings to full productions and welcomes playwrights’ inquiries.

Umm, it's freezing today ...

Temperature says it's 10 below zero right now ...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Important hearing date ...

For those folks keeping track of activities in the Legislature dealing with the Board of Education in Concord, here is an important date you might want to keep an eye on.
There will be a hearing on HB319, a bond Charter change for the board on Feb. 3. If approved, the bill would require any bond floated by the board with a price tag of more than $5 million to be put on the ballot for approval by the voters.
This, of course, is a very important and relevant bill. Not unlike other towns in New Hampshire we, as citizens, taxpayers, and renters who pay property taxes indirectly, should be able to have approval over said bonds.
The Municipal and Government Committee hearing will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 3, in Room 301 of the Legislative Office Building.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inside the House: Beginnings

Editor's Note: The is the first edition of Inside the House, a series of columns submitted by state Rep. Rick Watrous of Concord for publication in OurConcord. As always, if you have any interest in submitting material to be posted on this site, please feel free to email me at

What’s it like to be in the N.H. House of Representatives? What information is important for a New Hampshire resident to know about how the legislature works?

In this column I plan to let you know. I am a first-time legislator, representing Concord’s wards 5, 6, and 7—officially known as Merrimack District 12.

One of my firm beliefs is that a well-informed citizenry is essential for a democracy and good government. I want to let everyone in how our state government works, passing along knowledge that I pick up as I learn the ropes myself.

After the excitement of the campaign and the Nov. 4 election, there was a break in the action until the freshman orientation the third week of November. Of the 400 representatives in the N.H. House, approximately one-third are freshmen like myself. For three days we attended State House seminars and presentations conducted by veteran legislators and staff. It was a nonpartisan affair; in fact to a newcomer it was hard to tell the Republicans from the Democrats—which was fine by me.

The orientation was essential; there is a lot to learn, from the many steps of how a bill becomes a law to simply navigating your way in the maze-like State House. It was my steepest learning curve since my first week in college. Along the way we learned that the bill filing period comes but once a year, in November… and if we wanted to file a bill we had better hustle because the period ended the following week!

This year there was about 1,000 bills filed, down from the 1,200 or so filed last year. From January through June both the House and the Senate will spend most of their time determining the fate of these bills. Historically, most of these bills will be voted “Inexpedient to Legislate” or killed. About a third of bills filed may become law.

On Dec. 3, 2008, Organization Day, the 400 state representatives, old and new, assembled in the grand Representatives Hall to be solemnly sworn in. I have no doubt that everyone was mindful of the enormous challenges facing us in these uncertain economic times. At the same time, it was also a time of optimistic beginnings for us, the state and the nation.

Take a deep breath. Here we go.

--Rep. Rick Watrous

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Will this meeting be open to the public and press?

It looks like the Concord Board of Education and administration are trying, once again, to set up another breakfast meeting between a number of local government bodies.
According to an email I received a few minutes ago, the board, city council, city government officials, and the Legislative delegation, have all been invited to attend a breakfast meeting at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 26, in the professional development room at Conant Elementary School.
No word on what the subject matter will be or whether the public or press will be allowed to attend, although there are rumors that it is an "invitation only" meeting.
However, if there is a quorum of both the board and council, and public policy is discussed, this meeting should be open to the press and public.
According to 91A, there are a limited number of exemptions by which the press and the public can be kept out of a meeting of a quorum of any elected body. Discussion of litigation, employee contract negotiations, and personnel issues such as reprimands or disciplinary procedures, are just a few of the exemptions. Pretty much everything else needs to be done in the light of day, so to speak.
This meeting comes on the heels of another meeting scheduled in the middle of last month which was abruptly canceled after a number of people complained that the public would not be allowed to attend [some are saying that the meeting was canceled because it was not properly noticed].
If the meeting is a closed one, it begs the question: What does the administration and board have to hide from the public and the press?

Council meets with legislators tomorrow
According to city sources, the Legislative delegation has been invited to attend Monday's city council meeting to discuss a number of issues for about an hour or so. I'm sure state and federal aid, and the state of the New Hampshire and local economy, will be discussed by all involved. The meeting will be held in the council chambers at 7 p.m. and is open to the public and press.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wow, we're # 1!

A screen shot from the site from Saturday night.
Woo hoo! was voted the most influential political blog in New Hampshire this month by, a N.H. news portal site, beating out a slew of other blogs this week. This is the best ever rating for one of my Web sites.'s sister site, Politizine, is ranked 11th. Previously its best ranking was 6th. Both sites have only ranked in the Top 10 a couple of times, never mind in the top spot.
Thanks so much to everyone who bothered to rate our posts during the last couple of weeks. It surely made a difference.

Snow is coming ...

I wonder how much ...

Improving Shurtleff's school board election bill

Now that the governor is sworn in, the Legislature will soon be in full swing. Hearings will begin and there will be a flurry of activity concerning the hundreds of bills being proposed for this legislative session.

One of the more important bills affecting Concord is Rep. Steve Shurtleff's bill, HB33, changing the way the city elects members to the Concord Board of Education.
Currently, three school board members are elected each year to serve a three-year term each. The nine members all run at-large, meaning city-wide, in both even and odd years. Shurtleff's bill proposes to have school board members be elected from three legislative districts. So, instead of running city-wide, candidates would forward themselves from their district and run across three city wards. Each year, a single candidate would be elected from each ward to serve a three-year term.
If approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the plan would take affect in the 2011 election cycle. The bill text is here: ["HB 33"] and I'm told the first hearing for the bill is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 14, in Room 301 of the Legislative Office Building in the Municipal and County Government Committee.

In previous posts, I have had mixed feelings about the plan: ["Rep. Shurtleff's school board plan"] and been called out for not really having an opinion.

After talking to Steve via email and waiting to actually see the language of the bill, I've reached some conclusions about it. There are negatives and positives about it and there is at least one change to the bill which I think would improve the bill substantially.

Running city-wide is a difficult thing to do. So, lowering the threshold of election but running in three wards should make it easier for regular folks to get involved in the process. Since the election would be more manageable, more people will probably run.
Running on the district level vs. at-large also ensures that every neighborhood of the city is represented on the school board. While it is not a problem now - the new board is quite diverse - it has been a problem in the past. Some people in Concord have complained that their elementary schools were not being paid attention to because school board members came from only a couple of school district areas. Even though it is not a problem now, it could be in the future. This bill would eliminate that problem.

On the negative side, some feel that if school board members are elected by district, they will be worried about their own local elementary schools and not the city as a whole. While there is some legitimate concern here, I don't think it is enough to kill the bill. Board members would still have to consider the entire system on the middle and high school level. Not unlike ward city councilors who concentrate on local issues but think about the entire city, district school board members will think about the entire city, while also focusing locally.
Also on the negative side is the "winner-take-all" aspect of the proposal. Currently, voters get to choose as many as three candidates each year. With Shurtleff's proposal, voters in one district will only get to vote for one candidate. I'm of the feeling that we need more choices and we need voters to feel empowered. This proposal would limit each individual voter's preference to one instead of three.

One thing the bill does not address at all is the issue of how many votes it takes to get elected to the school board in differing years. Currently, some board members get elected with thousands more votes than others.
For example, in 2007 the three winners of board seats won with between 1,901 and 2,814 votes. A year later, the winners received between 6,480 and 7,086. The difference in votes is based on turnout. One year was a city election; the other a presidential election. But the difference in turnout is staggering because, essentially, thousands more people determined the outcome of who won than the previous year. Granted, if voters don't bother to vote, then they cost themselves representation. But still, the fact that one year it only takes 2,000 votes to win and another year it takes more than 6,000 is a serious problem which needs to be fixed.

In balancing the negatives and positives, it is clear that Shurtleff's school board election bill could be improved by making two small changes.
First, keep the change to districts, but instead of running every three years, have the board members run every two years like district city councilors. This would fix the disproportionate voter turnout issue. It would also probably boost turnout in city year elections, since voters would know that they would only be able to cast votes in school board races every two years.
Second, after making the change to two years, elect three board members from each district. This would eliminate the winner-take-all aspect of Shurtleff's bill and guarantee that voters in each district were able to vote for as many as three candidates, as they do now at-large.
If these changes are made, the bill will be improved and will make great changes to how we elect Concord's school board members.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gas prices spike ...

After hitting a low of $1.48 in Concord, gas prices at area pumps have spiked to $1.69 during the last week. No word yet on why gas prices would go up more than 20 cents in a matter of days. But, maybe the OPEC output cutback is having some affect. Or, maybe local gas companies are effin' with us ...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Two local media notes ...

A couple of quick local media observations from the past couple of weeks:

First, Friday's Concord Monitor was a slim two book newspaper with the Friday culture section put together on some inside pages. While it was a surprise to see, it works visually.
Saturday's Monitor also yielded some changes. It had no religion story in the religion section but did have the church listings. The Opinion page was sized down to one page which isn't a huge thing since the Monitor hasn't offered a local editorial on Saturday in ages.
Question: Is the Saturday newspaper long for the world at this point? With dailies across the country cutting down their physical publishing to five and four day weeks, is the Monitor far behind? Probably not. But one has to wonder.
The comment section on the newspaper's Web site seems to be going great guns, which is good. Most of it is fun reading. Publisher Geordie Wilson will be talking about the initiative at the February New England Press Association convention in Boston. I'll more exciting NEPA news after the convention.

Second, The Bow Times has merged with the Goffstown News. I don't know when this happened but it seems like a recent change. Bow news is now a one page section in the Goffstown paper. A search on Google, Google news, and the Concord Monitor Web site, yielded no stories about the change [I mentioned it on the Politizine Twitter a couple of weeks ago, so I think I'm the first observer to write about it]. There is a short, undated press release on the Neighborhood News Web site about the change.
Bedroom communities with no retail base are very difficult markets for newspapers, especially free ones with no subscription base. Even though advertisers want to pitch their products to affluent readers, that isn't enough these days to sustain the physical product. If there is nothing to pay for the physical newspaper, it can't be sustained, unfortunately.
Question: If the Monitor boosted coverage of Bow, would that deliver more subscriptions, especially in the wake of the end of The Bow Times? I know that the Union Leader attempted that in the past, hiring part-timers to cover Bow meetings, but I don't know if it was very successful. One has to wonder though. While I don't know the inner workings of the Monitor staff, it would seem as if there would be enough people to expand some coverage and do some marketing to residents interested in more than published press releases.

Gibson's reduces store hours

In an email to consumers and supporters of his store, Gibson's Bookstore owner Michael Herrmann told shoppers that the store would be ending Sunday hours until the fall 2009 and reducing some weekday nighttime hours.
According to Herrmann, for the last 15 months, the store has been opened every night until 8 p.m. except on Sundays, in an effort to adjust and be more flexible to consumer shopping habits.
However, the store will now only be open until 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The later hours will continue on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with Herrmann noting, "Lots of stores are open late Thursday and Friday--come check them all out!"
He called the Sunday hours "no longer feasible" since "folks just don't seem to come downtown" on Sundays.
Sundays are supposed to be a day of rest anyway so the Gibson's staff can take advantage of the day off to recoup. Here's hoping its a prosperous New Year for the store!