Nice to see Kyle Jarvis of the Sentinel has been working on a piece regarding the upcoming Bearcat hearing. Free Keene gets a mention:
The public will likely get a second chance to weigh in on a new armored vehicle for the Keene Police Department.
Last month, the City Council approved a $285,933 federal Homeland Security grant to buy a LENCO BearCat Special Missions Public Safety Vehicle. But some voiced concerns about whether such a vehicle was necessary for a small community, and a 144-signature petition was brought before councilors asking for an additional public hearing.
Mayor Kendall W. Lane accepted the petition as informational — meaning the council didn’t take action on the request — because “it didn’t ask the council to do anything.
“It asked for a public hearing before the full council, but that’s not an appropriate subject for the council to hold a hearing on,” he said.
Now, two councilors say they plan to ask for a hearing, this time at the committee level, which Lane says is an appropriate request that he plans to grant.
The vehicle would be the first of its kind in this part of the state; the closest such vehicle is at least an hour away, Keene police said.
They said the vehicle, which comes equipped with thermal imaging, hazardous gas detection and off-road capabilities, would help the department in numerous situations, such as extreme weather events, inspecting suspicious packages, and incidents involving suspects with weapons, police said.
At Thursday night’s meeting of the City Council’s finance committee, a handful of members of the group Free Keene attended, one holding a sign reading “NO BEARCAT.”
During a break in the action, finance committee Chairman Mitchell H. Greenwald informed the Free Keene members that Councilor Terry M. Clark, who cast the only vote in opposition to accepting the grant in December, had requested a public hearing on the matter before the committee and Greenwald said he would support that request.
Clark, who was unsure of how many residents supported his opposition to the vehicle, said he received more than a hundred phone calls and emails from people sharing his opinion after his initial opposition.
“We really should have a hearing because people genuinely feel they were left out of the process,” Clark said Friday.
Greenwald, who still supports purchasing the vehicle, said it’s important the public has a chance to be heard.
“I didn’t think this would be so controversial,” he said. “But if the public wants to be heard, let’s do it.”
Lane isn’t sure there’s a need for a public hearing, but doesn’t mind deferring to the committee on the matter.
“I don’t think it warrants it (a public hearing), but everyone can form their own opinion,” Lane said. “There’s nothing special about this particular vehicle; it’s an ordinary pickup truck with oversized tires and armor.”
Clark said he was surprised when Lane accepted the petition as informational, and by the time he had wrapped his head around it, the item had passed for discussion.
“It started to really bother me that I didn’t speak up,” he said, explaining what led to his written request for a hearing.
u The finance, organization and personnel committee will meet Thursday, Feb. 9, at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.
Kyle Jarvis can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.