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Barnstead road agent replaced after not cooperating with investigation

Selectmen in Barnstead, concerned that the road agent might have sold metal belonging to the town and kept the money, have dismissed the elected official for not cooperating with their investigation.

Chris Carazzo, serving his second term in the position, was replaced on an interim basis by James Doucette on Sept. 3, during the board’s weekly meeting.

A letter from the board to Carazzo dated Aug. 30 explained the decision. “Among allegations against you,” the letter said, “are that you brought town metals to Harding Metals of Northwood . . . and Berwick Iron & Metal Recycling of . . . Maine; that you exchanged the metals for cash; and that you kept the monies for yourself.”

When Carazzo refused to sign forms authorizing the two companies to release copies of invoices related to the transactions, the board chose to replace him.

In a voicemail left this week, Carazzo denied the charges. “To answer your question, no, I did not steal it,” Carazzo said. “And the reason I did not sign that stuff was because it was a one-sided investigation, and it was very negative, and they didn’t check any of the references.”

The investigation began at least five months ago, according to the Aug. 30 letter, which referenced a meeting in late April with Carazzo, the town’s attorney, Mark Puffer, and an investigator hired by the board.

Before and after that meeting, the letter states, the investigator interviewed an unnamed source, who had made the original claim against Carazzo, as well as other sources who could have had knowledge about the allegations.

“If the statements made to the investigator by others are all true,” the letter reads, “then it appears that you have deliberately refused or neglected to carry out the duties prescribed by law for highway agents, including responsibility to the selectmen for the expenditure of town monies.”

The letter also says that Carazzo was asked three times between June 12 and July 30 to authorize the release of the invoices.

David Kerr, the board’s vice chairman, was one of three selectmen who signed the letter, along with James Barnard and Gordon Preston.

Kerr had little to say when reached by phone this week. “He was dismissed for failure to follow our directives,” Kerr said. “But on the advice of our attorney, we are not making any comments over and above the letter we released.”

Puffer, the town’s attorney, did not return two messages left at his office.

The five-member board also includes Chairwoman Priscilla Tiede and Francis Vardaro, neither of whom signed the letter.

Tiede did not attend the Sept. 3 board meeting and said she would not have signed the letter had she been there because she has two family members on the road crew and wanted to avoid a conflict of interest.

Vardaro attended but chose not to sign. He declined to say why. “We just were told not to comment,” Vardaro said.

Carazzo’s removal leaves Doucette in the highway department’s lead role. Kerr said Doucette will be known as supervisor, not road agent, to make clear to residents that he was appointed, not elected.

Kerr said Doucette will keep the position until the term expires and the next election for road agent is held at the town meeting in March.

Carazzo is also the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former department worker Richard Niolet of Concord.

In findings released May 31, the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights found probable cause that Carazzo had verbally abused Niolet.

Among other things, Niolet had claimed that Carazzo told him to “take (his) skirt off and be a man.” That finding allowed Niolet to proceed with his lawsuit, which is scheduled to be heard next year in federal court.

In his lawsuit, Niolet said he complained to the selectmen about Carazzo’s behavior. According to the suit, the board sent Carazzo a letter three years ago, saying “that in referring to employees or any persons, you should not use words such as gay, fag, or bitch.” The board took no further action.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler
@cmonitor.com
or on Twitter
@rayduckler
.)

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