ROCKINGHAM >> Residents filled the basement of the town hall on Tuesday, many of them there to hear the Select Board's position on the proposed detention/justice center.
There was a large cheer from the meeting attendees when the Select Board voted to adopt a resolution that showed its disapproval for the proposed detention center. The resolution stated, "Where as, the voters of the Town of Rockingham did on March 1, 2016, vote to reject the proposed detention center. Be It Resolved, that the Town of Rockingham will not commit any resources, financial or staffing towards the support of this proposal now or in the future, until such time there is an affirmative vote of the citizens of the Town of Rockingham. The Town may however commit resources for other purposes such as investigation or appeal."
The justice center is a proposed multi-million-dollar criminal detainee/resource facility that would be located near Exit 6. The space would hold 155 beds — 120 secured for either federal or state male detainees, 20 for female detainees at either the state or federal level and 35 for those that are transitioning out or that are eligible for the electronic monitoring program. The building would be "building secure" rather than "site secure," which means no barbed fencing, guard tower, floodlights or large open spaces surrounding the building. Instead, security would be held within all or a portion of the building.
At a March 7 Special Select Board Meeting, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark had requested that an individual be appointed by the Rockingham Select Board to serve on the advisory committee for the justice center. Clark had said at the March 7 meeting that this would be someone who could bring input to the committee and take information back to the Select Board.
At Tuesday night's meeting, Select Board Chairman Lamont Barnett stated that he felt that due to the adoption of the resolution, no appointment should be made to the WCSD Advisory Committee.
"I'm just going to put it out there. I don't feel that we should be appointing anybody for this committee," said Barnett.
The board members noted that there was one person in the room who was interested in joining the committee, which was Deb Wright. Wright explained that she was happy with the Board's decision and had specific intentions for the position. "Since you addressed me, my only purpose because I wouldn't have said a disclaimer at the beginning of every report that I'm not for this, but here's the information, is a matter of you knowing what they're doing rather instead of waiting to hear."
Other parts of the meeting regarding the detention center were discussed toward the end of the meeting including an incorrectly worded petition that was circling through town. The petition was not worded as a yes or no question and then after revision, the word "shall" was not included.
Select Board member Stefan Golec made a motion to place on the May 17 Special Town Meeting warning the following as an Australian ballot non-binding article: "Shall the voters of the Town allow the placement of a detention center within the legal boundaries of the Town of Rockingham?"
The motion was seconded by Select Board member Peter Golec and was passed unanimously.
However this is not the only petition that has been making its round in Rockingham and Bellows Falls. The Town Clerk received a certified voter petition and then the Planning Commission held various meetings and one public hearing to make technical edits and then incorporate the public's opinions.
The Petition requests a bylaw change for the definition of a municipal building. Their suggested definition asks that the definition exclude "any facility in which more than eighteen (18) people are incarcerated or held for short-term psychological evaluation at any time or in which any person or persons are incarcerated for seven (7) or more consecutive days or held for short-term psychological evaluation for thirty (30) or more consecutive days."
On March 9 the Planning Commission formally transmitted the petitioner's zoning bylaw amendment and written report to the Town of Rockingham Select Board. At a March 11 special Select Board Meeting, Town Manager Chip Stearns gave a Planning/Zoning By-Law Amendment Presentation. Stearns outlined the process for the bylaw amendment and the process for an Australian ballot vote.
Golec made a motion that the Select Board move forward with an Australian ballot vote on May 17 and to hold a public hearing at the April 5 Select Board meeting. The motion was seconded by Golec and it passed unanimously.
Despite the outcome of these bylaw changes, Clark does not have to abide by these bylaw changes for the detention center the Sheriff's office is proposing to build near Exit 6.
"Obviously this is not adopted so this will not be considered in his application," said Alan LaCombe, Chairman of the Rockingham Planning Commission at a March 9 Planning Commission meeting.
Clark originally proposed the Liberty Mill Justice Center in a renovated Chemco building in Bellows Falls. But after receiving a structural report detailing the problems with the deteriorating building and after much town and village opposition, Clark tossed the idea. Shortly thereafter, he proposed building the detention center at the Exit 6 Industrial Park.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275