WINDHAM, NH -- A polarizing public safety cost issue stemming from the Aug. 18 visit to Windham by President Barack Obama was laid to rest on Monday night as Selectmen voted to not bill the campaign for the appearance.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of the town footing the $5,409.58 bill. Much of that money comes from overtime paid to police and fire personnel to provide security, crowd control and traffic control.
Selectman Ross McLeod, who was one of the board members who agreed with the town paying for the appearance, said the issue boils down to what has been done in the past.
"(The) de facto policy is, we haven't billed for campaigns that come through this town," he said.
McLeod's statement was confirmed to the board by Police Chief Gerald Lewis, who said that no previous candidate has seen a bill in his seven-year tenure.
"We just absorbed (those costs) into the overtime line item," Lewis said.
Lewis also addressed the cost of mutual aid, as five towns currently have costs that came from their providing assistance to Windham for the Obama visit.
"We have a standard mutual aid agreement with all Rockingham County communities, border communities," he said. "They provide assistance, and they pick up the tab for their own people."
One of those five towns that helped Windham with assistance was Salem, which also addressed the issue on Monday night.
Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey said a question was raised by the Salem board about billing the campaign for usage of four special Salem Police officers that were utilized in Windham during the president's visit.
Hickey said none of the officers were sworn officers.
"Windham had asked the officers to come over as part of mutual aid, which typically we don't bill for," Hickey said. He recounted a case a couple years ago where Windham Police leant Salem Police one of their prosecutors for a time at no cost to the town of Salem.
"If the board wants us to bill Obama we can certainly do that," Hickey said. "We potentially risk Windham or somebody billing us in the future when we need them for mutual aid."
"If Windham is going to bill, we should bill," Salem Selectman Stephen Campbell said. "So in that case, it's not your typical mutual aid."
Voting against the town of Windham footing the bill were Chairman Bruce Breton and fellow board member Phil LoChiatto.
Breton took criticism from McLeod and Selectman Kathleen DiFruscia for making headlines last week with the statement that the town would bill the campaign, beleiving that he was making a decision on behalf of the board.
Breton argued that the standard operating procedure is to bill for events, and if Selectmen want to waive it, they can.
Presidential visits have been very rare in Windham. According to Margaret Case, a long-term resident of the town, an appearance by former President Gerald Ford was not billed.
"I'm sure there's not a person in this room that was here or involved," she said. "President Ford was a Republican, and the people sitting at that time were Democrats."
Other residents, such as Americans for Prosperity – New Hampshire Director Corey Lewandowski, referenced the amount of money the Obama campaign has to pay for the bill.
"While we should be honored and are honored that the President of the United States came here to our beautiful facility, with the cost incurred I think it's only fair that the taxpayers recoup some money," he said.
A message written to Breton and Town Administrator Dave Sullivan from Lewandowski sparked much of the debate over who should foot the bill.
Selectman Roger Hohenberger, who voted against billing the campaign, did suggest sending a letter informing the President of the costs to the town. In the letter, he also wanted to strongly suggest any possible reimbursement.
The board did not go as far as agreeing to send any type of letter.
School board member Stephanie Wimmer suggested that the board try to solidify its policy, as the school district has done for not only political appearances but all kinds of events in the academic facilities.
While the board did stick with the precedent from previous political appearances, no policy changes were voted on.
Salem NH Patch Editor Jake O'Donnell contributed to this report.