Majority of federal police grant put on hold pending court decision
September 30, 2009
After a public hearing to address the appropriation of the Edward Bryne Memorial Justice Grant awarded to the Gilford Police Department, the town has decided to accept the funds for a few items, but will place less crucial purchases on hold pending a court date in February.
Town resident Doug Lambert filed a suit in the Belknap County Superior Court against Sheriff Craig Wiggin, claiming the sheriff was not authorized to receive, apply for or spend these grants.
The Gilford Police Department was granted $24,725 in all, including $12,050.10 for computer technology, $4,653 for speed enforcement (radar units), $1,989.90 for non-lethal technology (tasers), $1,696,50 for training ammunition, $1,863 for weapons (firearms), and $2,472.50 that would go to the Belknap County Sheriff's Department for grant administration.
Lambert told the board he had nothing against the police department, but felt that the distribution of grants did not seem to follow all standard procedures from the beginning, and that the 10 percent grant administration was also a concern of his.
"This is not anything towards the police department, but the process (of the grant). The sheriff had quoted that there would be no administrative cost, and the grants would pay for other things," said Lambert. "The county is using the money to buy a bill of goods. I'm having a problem that this is called grant administration, but it is going to other causes."
Lambert said the grants should have been used to purchase goods that would benefit the whole county, and that the process to obtain and distribute the grant did not involve the public.
"We have a group that is working with little to no civilian input. This is not happening in public," said Lambert. "There are many issues that have not been legally resolved. This hasn't been an investigated grant at this point."
Lambert said that under different circumstances, he would be in favor of purchasing the items the police department has asked for through the grant but hesitated to do so through the grant because he didn't want to use "federal money for such uses."
"It is up to us to do the right thing here tonight. You guys can do something about this," said Lambert to the board.
Selectmen John O'Brien said he was a little confused, considering the majority of Lambert's concerns seemed to center on the purchases, yet Lambert said he would be willing to pay for these purchases.
Lambert explained that it was not the purchases he had a concern with as much as the way these proposed items were going to be purchased. He said his concern was not just about liability, but about doing the right thing and accepting grants on the right terms.
"We are looking at cost versus benefit. I would pay for these items if they were needed again," said Lambert.
Lambert said that doing the right thing starts at selectmen meetings and suggested that such matters should be taken into greater consideration earlier in the game.
O'Brien agreed that if he looked at the "philosophical" aspect of this grant that just about anyone may be able to apply for use the grant for any purchases over time, but he told Lambert that the board was more concerned with the practicalities of the present matter.
"If the town doesn't accept the money and another town does, and everything done is legal, who loses out?" asked O'Brien.
Towns can't just get a grant for everything, said O'Brien, but they don't want to miss out on opportunities either. O'Brien also reminded Lambert that even if another town received the money, this his children would still have to pay the price if the money was owed back to the county.
Selectman Kevin Hayes asked Deputy Police Chief Kevin Keenan what grant purchase on the his department's list was an immediate necessity.
Keenan said that a technology service purchase was imminent, as the main server needed to be replaced soon. Keenan emphasized the importance of the server and said that all of the department's information processes through this server and without it, the system could crash. The cost estimate for that is $12,050.10.
Keenan said if the grant money was not spent, the department would lose all of the money, or have to pay it back. Keenan added that the grant money must be spent on the specific purchases that have already been approved by the board.
Hayes asked Lambert if the lawsuit in February would allow for the window to be kept open, lengthening the amount of time the department had to purchase their items. Lambert answered that the department had about 50 days to purchase their items, and that this window should still be opened after the court date. He said that the issue should be resolved by then.
"What happens if we defer the acceptance of the grant until after the court case?" asked Hayes.
Keenan said he wasn't completely sure, but O'Brien suggested that they accept the grant, but only use a portion for immediate technology needs. Otherwise, they could defer the grant and take the money from the budget, said O'Brien, although they might not be able to receive a reimbursement.
After some discussion, the board decided to accept the full amount of the grant and authorized the police department to use just the technology portion until the matter is resolved in court.