Jorge Mesa-Tejada was set up for a massive media smear by Earl Metzler, Superintendent of SAU 55, which is comprised of the Timberlane Regional and Hampstead school districts. They fell for it, we didn’t.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2016 the Hampstead School Board held two meetings. The first was a public hearing on the proposed budget and warrant articles. The second was a special meeting to make ballot recommendations on the budget and the various warrant articles to be placed on the ballot.
At the special meeting following the public hearing, the school board was presented with a letter dated and sent that day to Metzler regarding the ability of the Hampstead Budget Committee to review and make recommendations on the Hampstead School District budget and any warrant articles placed before voters relative to school spending. (Click here for the letter to Metzler page 1 and page 2.)
It is important to note that the letter came from Attorney James A. O’Shaughnessy, who is the legal counsel for SAU 55, not the Hampstead School District or the Hampstead School Board. Typically, individual school districts within a multi district SAU (School Administrative Unit) have their own legal counsel, which is separate and distinct from that of the supvervising SAU. Up until two years ago, Hampstead had its own school district legal counsel, but Metzler did away with that, leaving the SAU counsel as the Hampstead district’s only legal resource.
In the letter, which was raised by Hampstead School Board Chair Jason Cipriano under “other business” on the agenda, O’Shaughnessy wrote “This firm has been asked to provide a legal opinion regarding the status of the ‘Hampstead Budget Comrnittee’ and its relationship with the Hampstead School District.” What he didn’t divluge was who asked for the legal opinion, when it was asked for, or why.
In the letter, O’Shaughnessy goes through something of a history of the budget committee dating back to 1926 and various state statutes and comes to the conclusion that for the past ninety years, the budget committee has errantly involved itself in school district budget matters.
That touched off about a half hour discussion among board members in which Cipriano fought to exclude recommendations of the budget committee on the warrant articles headed for the ballot. Though board Vice Chair Jaye Dimando repeatedly questioned why the letter showed up at the last possible minute, was brought up under “other business” and argued the budget committee didn’t have a chance to respond, only board member Wayne Dinsmore joined her in opposing Cipriano. Board members Suzanne Barr and Karen Yasenka joined Cipriano in voting to bar the budget committee’s recommendations.
On January 14, 2016 the Hampstead Budget Committee held its scheduled meeting, during which Mesa-Tejada, who chairs the committee, said he believed the committee should act as if what happened Tuesday night didn’t happen and conduct their business as usual, which meant they would review the pending warrant articles and make their recommendations as they had always done. Members of the committee agreed.
During the discussion, Mesa-Tejada said that he would have come to the same conclusion O’Shaughnessy came to had he received the same information the district gave him. He went on, however, to provide further detail on what happened between 1926 and 1931 and provide evidence that the budget committee was completely within its right to review and make recommendations on school district warrant articles. (Comments start at the beginning of the meeting.)
He took direct aim at Metzler for the unannounced letter from the attorney. He said he found the timing of the letter “very suspect,” noting it was not advertised on the agenda and that nobody was alerted to it before hand. He found it suspicious that Cipriano had said he had “just been made aware” of O’Shaughnessy’s letter disqualifying the budget committee’s recommendations. (Comments start at minute 18.)
Among the items presented at the public hearing that night was a $4.6 million bond issue to expand and renovate the Hampstead Central School. Mesa-Tejada shared his opinion that the move to eliminate the budget committee’s recommendations from the warrant articles was to ensure there was not opposition to that bond issue as they desperately wanted it passed. This isn’t the first time it’s been on the ballot.
During the public hearing on the twelfth, Mesa-Tejada asked for a breakdown of the project to learn how much of the $4.6 million was to renovate existing space and now much was to build additions. After being told by Cipriano, whose wife teaches in the Timberlane Regional School District, of which Metzler is also superintendent, the information did not exist in the requested format, Mesa-Tejada said it was the third time the budget committee had requested the information and that it was still waiting to receive it.
“I’ll tell you point blank. What we’re facing is a superintendent that is hell bent on simply making everything a dictatorship and I do not appreciate that,” said Mesa-Tejada at the Budget Committee meeting on January 14. He said that belief was rooted in his observations of Metzler’s interactions with the Timberlane Regional School Board and the SAU 55 School Board and that he’d “now brought it to Hampstead.” (Comments start at minute 13.)
After the board voted to send letters to the editor sharing the information that underscored their belief that they retained the advisory authority they’d had and consult with the town’s legal counsel on the matter, they turned their attention to the warrant articles.
It was during the discussion on the $4.6 million Warrant Article 2 where Mesa-Tejada made the comments that Metzler and Cipriano used to spawn a fierce and misleading media frenzy.
In presenting Warrant Article 2 at the public hearing, administrators put great emphasis on the public safety need to expand the school to eliminate existing portable classrooms. There were several references to the recent episodes of gun violence and terrorism in today’s day and age, clearly implying that children in the portables were at risk of suffering such acts of violence because they had to go to and from the portables to the main school building.
In discussing the presentation, Mesa-Tejada dismissed the public safety rational for eliminating the portable classrooms noting that far more harm could be done to children at the school if an attack were made against the playground as opposed to an attacker trying to harm students traveling between the two buildings. (Pertinent discussion starts at minute 35.)
While Mesa-Tejada in no way threatened to carry out such actions, Metzler used them to issue a “no trespass” order to bar the 79 year old Mesa-Tejada from “any of the school buildings located within the school district, any vehicle used for school district purpose, fields associated with athletic or other school sponsored events, playground areas and any other grounds/areas associated with the Hampstead School District.” Metzler had the order delivered to Mesa-Tejada by the Hampstead Police Department. Contrary to published media reports, the Hampstead Police Department did not issue the order.
In conjunction with issuing the order, Metzler and Cipriano issued a statement to the media in which they accused Mesa-Tejada of a “tirade against our children,” saying “We take seriously these offensive and disgusting statements made by Mr. Mesa-Tejada and wholeheartedly denounce his behavior and blatant display of disregard for our children and their safety. Additionally we call into question his fitness to serve in any town official capacity.”
While Mesa-Tajada did question the whether the security concerns raised by administrators in search of a $4.6 million bond were warranted and did use his expertise as a Marine to identify far greater threats to their security, there clearly was no “tirade against” the children, nor was there ever any threat made against them.
In barring Mesa-Tejada from any school facility, Metzler prevents him from attending any and all meetings held in Hampstead’s schools, including the deliberative session where residents will speak and vote on the school district warrant articles. It’s held in the middle school. Metzler’s order also prevents Mesa-Tejada from voting in person during the Presidential Primary where the town’s polls are located.
Members of our audience will recall that Metzler issued a similar order to Timberlane Regional School Board Member Donna Green of Sandown after she allegedly threatened school district personnel. After Right to Know Requests filed by Girard at Large and Green’s attorney Richard Lehman forced the district to release security video which showed the alleged incident did not occur, the no-trespass order was rescinded.
Mesa-Tejada is a respected and influential public servant in Hampstead and has been for decades. He has also been a vocal critic of Metzler. And, like Green and a laundry list of other Metzler critics, including Atkinson Taxpayer Association Chairman Leon Artus, radio talk show host Rich Girard, Coalition of NH Taxpayers Chairman Ed Naile and others, Mesa-Tejada has now fallen victim to Metzler’s misuse of the resources and the authority of his office in an attempt to silence, and if not silence, besmirch, those who dare question him, his methods, motives and mischief.
On Sunday morning, Mesa-Tejada issued a statement regarding the incident saying:
“I want to apologize for alarming you with the remarks I made during the January 14th Budget Committee meeting.
Watch the incident here, beginning at 36:01 http://tinyurl.com/jrs82mr
My intention was to highlight the fact that the children are more at risk on the playground than when moving between the trailers and the main building, should someone want to harm them.
I made this observation in response to the safety emphasis pushed by the School Board in the Infomercial shown during the Public Hearing in support of Central School $4.5 million Bond article.
Stupidly, I used excessively graphic language. It’s inexcusable and I apologize.
Publisher’s note: For our follow up story aired on January 18, click here.