Calling for His Resignation: Laconia City Councilor Accused of Mocking Dead Firefighter
LACONIA — "I know you guys think you can walk on water. There was a man in this town a long time ago who said he could walk on water, and he tried it up at the Weirs dock, and he didn't."
Laconia City Councilor Robert Hamel spoke these words to Laconia Professional Firefighter's Association President Jason Griffin at a City Council meeting Monday night. Those words now have some calling for Hamel's resignation.
The feud is deep-rooted. The city council and firefighters union have been battling about the budget for years.
Griffin says Laconia firefighters have notoriously had a very high overtime expenditure. To try to remedy the increasing costs to keep their department staffed, the city hired a company five years ago to come in and give recommendations on how to save overtime dollars.
The conclusion was to hire more full-time firefighters — 16 more to be exact.
After the report, the city accepted a federal grant to hire four more firefighters, which Griffin says resulted in a reduction in response time and firefighter and civilian injuries.
Despite the positive outcome, Griffin says the firefighters' budget was recently cut and they are once again forced to operate at pre-2013 staff numbers. These cuts, Griffin says, have negatively affected the morale of the group.
"We have been losing a large amount of members throughout the last few years four multiple reasons. One of the main reasons is the working conditions imposed by the council," Griffin said.
Monday night Griffin took to the podium to address the budget cuts as well as the decline in morale among the firefighters. He and Councilor Hamel were going back and forth as the tension started to mount.
Councilor Hamel is circled in red.
That's when Hamel said,"You guys (firefighters) really need to calm down. You really do. You're out of control over there and that comes from the top down with a chief that says he doesn't answer to the council. It's a Massachusetts attitude, and it needs to stop. We need to work together, exactly right, and it wasn't started by here. It was your union, and I know you guys think you can walk on water. There was a man in this town a long time ago who said he could walk on water, and he tried it up at the Weirs dock, and he didn't." (16:00)
So who was Councilor Hamel talking about?
Griffin says it was fallen firefighter Mark Miller. Miller died in 2004 during a diving exercise at the Weirs.
Mark Miller (courtesy - Kelseyy Sewell, Facebook)
However, Hamel says he was referring to Red Dunn, a pseudo-legend in Laconia.
"One of the nicest and kindest man in Laconia at the time," Hamel said in reference to Dunn.
Dunn died at the age of 72 but not from drowning. He was a World War II and Korean War veteran who died at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton in 1998. According to his granddaughter, Laura Dunn, Red Dunn tried to walk on water at Lake Opechee, not the Weirs, some 40 years ago.
Laura Dunn describes her grandfather as outspoken and vibrant.
"He was always in the parades and sold Christmas trees," she said. But he gave away as many trees as he sold to those in need.
"Some might have said he was a bit crazy," she admitted. "But he did a lot for his community."
Red Dunn (courtesy - Laura Dunn)
But Laura Dunn doesn't think Hamel was talking about her grandfather. She says he's backpedaling.
"I really do feel he was talking about Mark Miller. It's not professional and very disrespectful — wrong for an elected official," she said.
Hamel says any implication he was talking about Miller is "absolutely false".
Regardless of whom Hamel was talking about though, Laura Dunn says its inappropriate.
"For him to think its OK to hurt another family is wrong."
Laura Dunn, a Laconia resident, believes Hamel should resign.
"It would make this city feel like we are going in the right direction," she said.
Griffin won't say what he'd like to happen. He only says Hamel's comments deeply hurt the fire department as a whole.
Neither will Gayle Miller, Mark Miller's widow. She says the comments made by Hamel were inappropriate but did not want to comment further. She believes Hamel was talking about her late husband.
"Whether it be about Red Dunn or Mark Miller, it's unacceptable," Laura Dunn said.
Miller agreed, "He should not have made those comments about anyone."