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Emails show Alton selectmen wanted outspoken critic silenced, attorney says

By BEA LEWIS
Union Leader Correspondent

March 12. 2018 3:19PM
JEFFREY CLAY (Bea Lewis/Correspondent File)



ALTON - Jeffrey Clay, an outspoken critic of town officials, believes recently released emails highlight an effort to silence him.

Clay, 58, has twice been led from town hall in handcuffs for allegedly disruptive behavior. He was convicted of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest on Jan. 15 following a two-day bench trial in 3rd Circuit Court - Laconia and now awaits sentencing. Each charge is potentially punishable by a fine of up to $1,200, plus a 24% penalty assessment fee.

Clay was to be sentenced on Feb. 22, but his lawyer instead filed a motion asking the judge to set aside the verdicts.

In response to a right-to-know request since filed on Clay’s behalf, the town released emails exchanged between Town Administrator Elizabeth Dionne and James Sessler, the town’s attorney.

On July 19, 2016, Dionne wrote Sessler seeks guidance on behalf of Cydney Shapleigh, chairman of the board of selectmen, as to whether the town could “ban” Clay from attending future meetings because of his past behavior.

Dionne’s email notes Clay had spoken at each public input portion of the board’s meeting the prior night.

“It got heated. He argued the three-minute rule, demanded his three minutes start over. She (the chairman) gave him an extra 30 seconds,” the email says.

“I left the room to go downstairs to get the (police) chief. The chief was downstairs at another heated meeting with DOT and angry residents over rumble strips, which had calmed down by then.

“Everything was fine when the Chief got upstairs, but when I was downstairs, apparently Jeff Clay used profanity by using the word ‘bullshit’ at least once, possibly twice. [The chairman] called him on it and referred to the policy. He subsequently stopped using profanity.”

Dionne asked Sessler three questions on behalf of the chairman: Could the board ban Clay from future meetings for violating the ‘no obscenity’ policy on July 18? After how many warnings might he be banned? Are “violations” cumulative and carry over into future meetings?

“As public officials we have to put up with a lot of unusual and at times disruptive people and we just have to deal with them,” Sessler replied.

Clay cannot be kept from attending future meetings, the town’s attorney counseled.

“I do not know why you are using the word banned! If the rules are violated, the person can be removed from that particular meeting,” Sessler wrote.

Clay views the emails as supporting his contention that he was “deliberately targeted” by selectmen “in order to silence my criticism of them regarding ambulance billing, Attorney Sessler, and overall incompetence by the Board of Selectmen.”

The emails, Clay asserts, show that the board had a non-meeting with Sessler “to discuss Jeff Clay” immediately prior to the meeting where he was arrested.

On Feb. 20, Clay’s lawyer, Jared Bedrick of Concord, filed a motion asking Judge Michael Garner to set aside Clay’s convictions arguing Clay could not have acted knowingly as he didn’t understand he was being taken into custody.

The defense asserts that the court failed to consider whether Clay was “subjectively aware” that he was being asked to move from the table where he had been seated while pointedly telling Alton selectmen that he thought they were inept.

In asking the judge to reverse course, Bedrick said the court did not identify any offense Clay was committing or about to commit, but rather “merely noted” that Clay had violated the rules of public participation that do not appear in the disorderly conduct statute, the criminal code or the public safety laws.

If Judge Garner declines to reconsider his verdict, Clay says he will appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The emails can be viewed below;



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