April 22, 2018
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NH city’s police oversight panel folds after commissioner announces move to Maine

Portsmouth Herald | BDN
Portsmouth Herald | BDN
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Police Commissioner Joe Plaia has submitted his immediate resignation so he can move to Maine.
By Elizabeth Dinan, Portsmouth Herald
Updated:

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Police Commissioner Joe Plaia has submitted his immediate resignation, citing family reasons, meaning the commission is now defunct until the City Council appoints a replacement to serve the remaining two years of Plaia’s four-year term.

In a letter to City Attorney Robert Sullivan Wednesday, Plaia explained he’s engaged to be married to a woman who lives in Maine and “when it came time to decide where we would reside, the clear choice” became her Maine home. Plaia said there are children involved, who have schooling and activities in Maine, which he and his fiancee do not want to disrupt. Plaia’s letter noted he reviewed the city charter with Sullivan and “clear language” states he would be barred from serving on the Portsmouth Police Commission while living in Maine.

“With the Webber/Goodwin matter reaching the remedy phase, the Connors matter finally settled, and the hiring of Chief Mara and now Chief Merner, I feel the department is in good hands going forward and that I have fulfilled the promises I made to the citizens of Portsmouth when I ran for the commission,” Plaia wrote. “I can only hope I served the city, the Police Department and the citizens of Portsmouth well.”

In August 2015, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office ruled a vacancy on the Police Commission must be filled by the city’s governing body, the City Council. The attorney general’s ruling about Police Commission vacancies came in response to a request from the Portsmouth Herald after the resignation of Gerald “Jerry” Howe. City charter at the time said the vacancy would be filled by the runner-up in the last election, but the attorney general overruled that and a footnote was added to the city charter to reflect that.

The city charter dictates there must be three members of the Police Commission, so Plaia’s immediate resignation means the commission is now non-existent.

City Attorney Robert Sullivan said he will research applicable laws and publish an opinion about what action the city should take to fill Plaia’s seat.

Following Plaia’s resignation, Police Commission Chairman Brenna Cavanaugh, whose term expires the first of the year, said she is willing to serve the remainder of Plaia’s term. Cavanaugh ran for City Council in the last election, was not elected, and Jim Splaine was elected to fill her commission seat.

In a letter to the City Council, Cavanaugh wrote, “I respectfully request to be considered for appointment to the vacant seat.”

“It would be my pleasure and an honor to serve the city’s residents as a police commissioner for the next two years,” she wrote. “The institutional knowledge and oversight acumen acquired during my tenure would benefit the chief, the department, the city of Portsmouth and its residents. Additionally, my experience and current knowledge of existing practices would offer the benefit of continuity.”

Cavanaugh pointed out that the Police Department “has endured a series of leadership gaps and upheaval in recent years.”

“Appointing me to this vacancy would benefit the City Council and the department, as there would not have to be an interruption in regular business,” Cavanaugh wrote.

Following Howe’s resignation, and the attorney general’s ruling about finding a replacement, the City Council in 2015 appointed a panel to review candidates interested in replacing him, then the City Council voted to appoint Wayne Lehman.

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