CLAREMONT — According to Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase, the city only discovered the city’s lack of information about its police commission during former City Manager Ryan McNutt’s tenure.
At last night’s city Policy Committee meeting, Chase said that confusion arose about the city police commission when McNutt began attending the commission meetings, which McNutt’s predecessor Guy Santagate had never done. The question of McNutt’s role went to then-city attorney Jane Taylor, who had to find the answer in New Hampshire’s legislation because Claremont’s ordinance gave no answer.
“The city ordinance is incomplete,” said Mayor Charlene Lovett, Policy Committee chair. “It didn’t outline the powers, structure or duties like [it does for] all of the other boards and committees.”
Chase said after the meeting that Claremont is the only municipality on this side of the state that uses a police commission. A police commission is an independent board that oversees the hiring and firing of officers and policies for the department. In neighboring towns the municipal manager hires the police chief directly. Other New Hampshire cities that have a police commission include Nashua, Manchester and Portsmouth.
However, Claremont’s commission is the only one appointed by the city manager, rather than elected by voters. Several residents said they want to see this appointment duty changed, citing a potential conflict of interest under the current system.
“We have an employee of the city council, or the governing body, appointing the police commission, who serves the governing body,” City Councilor Jon Stone said.
Stone said after the meeting that the police commission should be independent from the city manager’s authority. Under Claremont’s system, the city manager has the ability to appoint members who serve his benefit rather than the department’s.
However, the laws that authorize the city manager to appoint the commissioners were written in 1947, before the Claremont Charter, and Claremont’s charter states that it cannot replace that legislation, even though that special legislation has been amended three times since then.
Lovett said that the council can ask Claremont’s state representatives to bring this issue to the House of Representatives in order to amend the language to allow Claremont to pursue other methods of appointments like other communities.
Resident Joe Osgood, a former state representative, said that he believes the commissioners should be elected by voters, though the city manager should be allowed a vote on the commission. Since there are three commissioners, the city manager would not be able to steer the committee, but the city manager should have a place at the commission.
In a draft letter of recommendations to the city council, the policy committee states the ordinance should include language defining the city manager’s role on the commission as advisory, non-voting and takes no authority away from the commissioners. The letter also recommends that the council update the city ordinance to detail the commission’s structure, duties, powers, rules and procedures, using the same organizational format used by other city boards, committees and commissions.