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Webster forming police advisory committee

Webster’s selectmen are soliciting applications for a five-member police advisory committee, an idea suggested at this year’s town meeting as a way to ease tension between the police department and people in town.

“I think this would be a good way to bring things to light, to bring transparency to the town again and get everybody together,” said resident Tara Gunningle, who suggested the committee at town meeting.

Selectmen Bruce Johnson said he’d contacted people in Boscawen, which has a similar committee, before town meeting to begin looking into it. Applications are due by May 13, and the selectmen will choose five people to sit on the committee. Those members will then come up with a mission statement, but the committee ultimately will not have any authority over the police department.

The town’s police department has been a point of contention over the past several years. After a failed motion to eliminate the department at the 2012 town meeting, some residents were heavily lobbying against the police leading up to this year’s town meeting, too. But the 2013 town saw it’s largest voter turnout in recent memory and a move to cut the public safety budget failed. Police Chief Bob Dupuis said he is supportive of the idea but hopes the committee members want to find solutions, not rehash old problems.

“Webster is a unique town, and it’s split and this is just something I’ve agreed to, to see if we can’t get everybody back on the same page,” he said. “As long as everybody comes in with an open mind and nobody comes in with an agenda, we will sit down with them and listen to their ideas and probably bounce some ideas off them.”

Criticism of the police department has been relatively quiet since town meeting, he said, but anyone with a grievance is welcome to come speak to him.

Selectman Mason Donovan met with Boscawen police Chief Kevin Wyman and Johnson met with Boscawen’s business administrator Michael Wright and Selectman Craig Saltmarsh to discuss how the Boscawen committee runs. The number of applicants will determine how much discretion the selectmen will have in appointing the committee, but they are looking for people with the best interests of the community in mind, Johnson said. But beyond choosing the committee members, the selectmen will try to stay out of committee matters.

“We want to make sure it works right, but we also do not want to be seen like we’re meddling in this,” he said.

Boscawen’s committee initially had problems because people had agendas to push, Johnson said he was told, so the first year of Webster’s committee could be rocky as well. But overall, Johnson said the town is moving in a positive direction and leaving some past tensions behind.

“I see a lot more people working together in this community then I did last year,” he said.

Applications for the advisory committee are available on the town’s website.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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