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Keene dust-up to play out on 'Colbert Report'

Union Leader Correspondent

July 07. 2014 7:36PM

KEENE — When the “Colbert Report” returns to Comedy Central from hiatus this summer, clashes between Keene city officials and members of the Free Keene movement will be featured.

City Council Member Randy Filiault said he almost refused to be interviewed, but then changed his mind.

“I just didn’t feel that Keene needed any more negative attention,” he said.

After talking to someone from the show, he decided to go ahead with an interview. “I took the risk of interviewing anyway.” Filiaut said he chose to be a representative of the city’s point of view even though he knows he could be “hung out to dry,” he said.

“I wasn’t naive. I am a fan of the show. I think they do a good job of taking serious issues and infusing some humor into it,” Filiault said. “Some of the questions were asked in a common direct form and some of the questions were asked tongue and cheek, cause they are a news/comedy show.”

One question Filiault found amusing was about whether a proposed graffiti ordinance would involve military tanks in the streets, he said.

More than a year ago, city drew national media attention in a battle with local activists called Robin Hood and his Merry Men after the group mounted a campaign to fill empty parking meters just before city parking enforcement officers could issue tickets.

The city took several members of the group to court, saying the city employees were being harassed.

Last year, from “Good Morning America” to The New York Times, the clash was boiled down to a story about activists fighting for their First Amendment rights with many city officials feeling their side of the story wasn’t made clear.

More recently Free Keene has opposed a proposed graffiti ordinance that was raised when different groups clashed downtown over chalk messages and drawings on the sidewalks and in Central Square and whether they should be allowed.

When the Colbert show called, city manager John McLean and Mayor Kendall Lane declined to be interviewed, MacLean said Monday.

“My reaction to the Colbert show is it a very, very funny show, and they parody all sides of an issue and I’m not adverse to having fun poked at me,” MacLean said, but added that he has answered many questions already. At a certain point, continuing to answer to the Free Keene agenda just feeds the activists’ publicity machine, he said.

“When you really see it for what it is, I think the city of Keene is a very tolerant and gracious place to be,” MacLean said. “All the city is interested in is the safety of all the city employees, all of the residents and all of the people that are calling themselves Robin Hooders.”

Filiault said the Colbert show is on hiatus. He expects the Keene episode to air when the show returns in three to four weeks.

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