School board won’t weigh in on BearCat purchase

Last modified: 8/29/2013 11:01:58 AM
The Concord School Board voted last night, 4-2, not to weigh in on whether the city council should accept federal funds for the purchase of an armored BearCat vehicle.

“Really, I think it’s none of our business,” school board member Barb Higgins said. “We’re a school board, not a BearCat board.”

The vote was in response to requests from city officials for the school board to write a letter in support of acquiring the BearCat. Police Chief John Duval had asked Superintendent Chris Rath to send a letter in early August, and when she didn’t respond Mayor Jim Bouley brought the request to the school board. At a meeting last week, the board decided it had no authority to do so, and instead asked Rath to write a letter taking no position. The letter, presented by Rath last night, commended the council for its open process throughout the BearCat debate and said the schools would support whatever decision the council made.

But after taking comments from several members of the public and debating among themselves, the board ultimately voted to send no letter at all. The two board members who dissented, Oliver Spencer and Tom Croteau, wanted to send a letter to the council supporting the BearCat, acknowledging its potential role in school safety.

About a dozen people, half of whom are Concord residents, showed up at the board’s meeting. Everyone who addressed the board spoke against the BearCat and asked the board to write a letter opposing it. Their reasons for opposing the project included the $260,000 price tag, which would be covered by a federal grant, the militarization of the police and what some speakers alleged were lies in the original grant application.

“I think we have an educational opportunity here for our children,” said Concord resident Pamela Ean. “I would have liked you to say (that) for economic reasons we should not be accepting any money from the federal government.”

Christopher Booth, another Concord resident, said commenting on the BearCat isn’t the school board’s job, but if it sends a letter it should recommend the city deny the grant. That federal money could be used from something else, he said, like helping students go to college.

He also said he hopes that “Concord High School students will speak out against the Concord Police Department getting a military vehicle.”

Other speakers said that it was strange for the city to ask the school board to weigh in, and that supporting the purchase of BearCat would mean the board was endorsing the practice of lying.

After about 20 minutes of public comment, board members had their own discussion about whether to send Rath’s draft letter.

Spencer, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps until this past January, said the letter was “too vanilla” and that the board should take a stand or not send the letter at all. He said he was in favor of supporting the BearCat purchase. He referenced his own combat experience and said having the best tools at the city’s disposal in a crisis situation would be beneficial for everyone. He acknowledged that the board has no authority in the final decision on whether to accept the money, but said he did think it was in their interest to support it, even if it caused some backlash.

“I would rather take egg in the face all day long than take the loss of life,” he said.

Higgins said she thought the letter Rath drafted was a polite way of passing the issue back to the city council, but that she didn’t feel it was necessary to send it.

“If we’re being asked to support something and we can’t support it, then maybe we just don’t do anything,” she said.

Higgins, board President Kass Ardinger and members Jennifer Patterson and Nick Metalious voted in favor of the motion not to send a letter at all, while Croteau and Spencer voted against it. Board members Bill Glahn, Clint Cogswell and Tara Reardon were not at the meeting.

The city council is scheduled to vote on whether to accept the federal grant for the BearCat at a Sept. 9 meeting.

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


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