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Seabrook's secrets: What's with paid leaves?

Even a nuclear plant's electricity cannot generate enough light for proper illumination of Seabrook's local government.

New Hampshire's newspapers regularly tell stories of closed meetings and sealed minutes in town halls and school offices. But there may not be a municipality anywhere keeping as many secrets as that Seacoast town. It has become a perfect example of how government officials treat with contempt the public's right to know.

According to local media, the superintendent of sewers was placed on paid administrative leave in April. No one will say why, although he had faced an assault complaint.

The police chief has also been on paid leave, apparently with health problems, but there has been no official explanation.

Town manager Barry Brenner was placed on paid leave in May. Don't ask the selectmen why. They will not tell you. The minutes of their key meeting are sealed.

In June, the finance director resigned abruptly, walking out without advance notice. No one is saying much about that one, either. For some reason, she was not placed on paid administrative leave. By Seabrook's current standards, that is unusual and perhaps unfair. After all, when she was hired, her predecessor was on paid administrative leave. Why not give it to everybody?

You probably will not be surprised to learn that one selectman is accusing the others of meeting illegally and secretly to decide if department heads should stay or go.

For generations, Seabrook has been renowned for colorful local politics. Some of its long-time residents may know the details behind these mysterious personnel moves. But there is no good excuse for running a town this way, leaving most taxpayers in the dark.

Why does Seabrook pay so many of its top-level employees not to work? That wasteful practice has long been standard operating procedure just a few miles away in Massachusetts, but it must not become acceptable here in New Hampshire. It is time for Seabrook's selectmen to be held accountable.

Eric Church
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