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Alton vs. Clay: Let your critics speak

March 15. 2018 11:12PM

Alton selectmen do not have to listen to Jeffrey Clay. But they do have to let him speak.

Clay is a harsh critic of the board, and a fixture during the public comment period at select board meetings.

In 2015, selectmen had Clay arrested for disorderly conduct. Laconia District Court Judge James Carroll threw out the case, and Clay eventually won a $42,500 judgment against the town in federal court for infringing on his right to free speech. The town settled for $30,000 in 2016.

Last year, Clay was again arrested, and Judge Michael Garner found him guilty of disorderly conduct, writing that video of the meeting where Clay was arrested “strongly supports the finding that Mr. Clay intended to annoy the Board of Selectmen.”

This is a troubling decision, and Clay is appealing. If annoying elected officials is a crime, we’re in big trouble.

Clay used New Hampshire’s Right-To-Know law to learn what town officials were saying about him. The emails he received show Town Administrator Elizabeth Dionne asked if Alton could ban Clay from future meetings. Town attorney James Sessler informed her that would not be legal. Clay says this is evidence he has been targeted by the town.

Clay is confrontational and annoying. But he has a constitutional right to tell his elected officials what he thinks of them. The thin-skinned select board should stop arresting its critics. Let Clay have his say.

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