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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Former Litchfield School Board member cries foul over political flier

LITCHFIELD – A former School Board member claims a flier distributed by a political opponent just days before this week’s town elections crossed the line and caused unnecessary pain for his family.

Jason Guerrette doesn’t question the accuracy of information on the flier detailing his 10-year-old legal troubles, which was distributed by School Board member Dennis Miller.

Guerrette does question how it would influence his ability to serve on the School Board.

“That’s how they chase good people out of the educational system or from saying anything,” Guerrette said. “It’s not about me. It’s about my kids. Why? Why involve them?”

Miller said he simply took a page out of Guerrette’s book, pointing to accusations Guerrette has made and digging that he has done on other board members and posted on town chat pages and his own website.

“I read constantly the things that he writes and what he states that he’s about, and it’s just not consistent with having that criminal record and not disclosing it to the town,” Miller said. “Given the things the School Board deals with, I would think that he would have disclosed that he had this criminal record.”

In 2003, Guerrette lived in Circleville, Ohio, with his first wife. He said his wife wanted a divorce and, looking ahead to a custody battle, she put his handgun in his vehicle and then reported to police that Guerrette had abused her.

Police arrested Guerrette and charged him with domestic violence and carrying a concealed weapon. About two months later, the domestic violence charges were dropped and Guerrette pleaded guilty to improper storage of a handgun, a misdemeanor.

Guerrette paid a $250 fine and received a 90-day suspended jail sentence.

Not long after that, a judge awarded him sole custody of his two kids, and he moved to New Hampshire, where his sister was living, he said.

None of that context was included in the fliers put in Litchfield residents’ mailboxes just ahead of the School District’s annual meeting.

The flier asks, “Do you want board members with a criminal record – a weapons offense?” It includes a portion of the case file from Ohio from February through July 2003, although there’s no mention of domestic violence charges.

Guerrette lost his re-election bid Tuesday after three years on the board.

School Board Chairman John York wasn’t available for comment.

Miller said one of the charges Guerrette has leveled is that Miller accessed student information – specifically, their addresses – to mail political fliers.

Guerrette did make that claim on his website at www.LitchfieldEducationMatters.com, and posted correspondence between Miller and Elaine Cutler, Litchfield’s superintendent, to that effect.

Miller said he made a legal request through Cutler for the addresses of Litchfield residents with children in the public school system, but never accessed student data himself.

Over the years, Guerrette has consistently talked about ethical guidelines and full disclosure, especially this time last year with another School Board member’s dispute with someone who had business with the board, Miller said.

Miller also said all of the information on the flier is true and a matter of public record, and that he makes no judgments about the information.

“I didn’t interject any opinion at all to what’s on the flier,” he said. “I clearly wanted people to see what they were going to vote for or not vote for, as the case may be.”

Guerrette said what upsets him most is that people without that context think the domestic violence charges involved his current wife. His sons, who were babies when he left Ohio and are now 10 and 13, know about their biological mother but not the circumstances surrounding the divorce, Guerrette said.

“Everybody thinks that’s my wife,” he said. “They don’t understand that has nothing to do with her.

“I’m worried about my kids because of this flier is out there. Now my wife’s embarrassed to walk out the damn door. It’s just wicked.”

Guerrette’s wife, Hope Guerrette, said she’s waiting for the day the boys see the flier and start asking questions.

“I don’t understand how someone thought that this was OK to do,” she said. “People were giving me looks like, ‘How can she stay with him?’

“It’s difficult. I was shocked that someone would stoop so low without knowing the whole story.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).