Brattleboro rescinds offer to security firm

Hill Street Security is out after ‘cockroach’ comment; owner regrets his words

BRATTLEBORO — A comment about cockroaches scattering when the lights go on has put Hill Street Security owner John Raffensberger out of the running for his company to contract with the town.

At the June 6 Selectboard meeting, when the issue of hiring unarmed, private security to help ease public safety concerns was raised, Raffensberger's firm was one of two hired. He spoke, saying he believed a private security presence will have an immediate effect.

“It's like cockroaches running away when you turn the light on,” he said of the results he's seen elsewhere when his company comes to a situation.

Later in the meeting, community member Robin Morgan said she was disturbed to hear Raffensberger appearing, to her, to compare people to roaches. She also admitted he “had a point” in that “people are going to flee the space, if they have a perception that what they were planning on doing there is going to not be possible.”

At the time, Selectboard member Peter Case said he didn't take the comment that way.

“It was not a reference to the people and citizens of this town,” Case said.

“Let's not parse out words like that,” he said, adding that he “did not interpret what the gentleman said in a negative fashion.”

Board members, acting on the recommendation of Police Chief Norma Hardy, agreed at the meeting to contract with Securitas for $39 per hour for a total of $2,184 per week to cover the Transportation Center from 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and with Hill Street Security for $35 per hour for a total of $1,960 per week to cover Brooks Memorial Library and the town municipal and recreation centers from 2 to 10 p.m.

Town Manager John Potter said on June 19 that “as we were putting together final plans for the contracts, Chief Hardy and I discussed whether we wanted to continue with both security firms or not.”

“We were surprised by the comment made at the selectboard meeting by one of them because it showed something contrary to what we thought that firm was all about,” Potter said, confirming, when asked, if he was referring to Raffensberger's comment.

He called the Keene, New Hampshire businessman's words “not appropriate or acceptable.”

“We will expect the same level of professionalism, respect, and empathy towards everyone in the community coming from contracted staff as we do every day from town and police department staff,” he said. “We are currently discussing increased coverage from the second firm as we finalize a contract there.”

However, at the board meeting on Tuesday night (June 20), the first since the decision to hire both firms, Potter told Selectboard members that “we're going forward with just one of the security firms.”

No further word about it was spoken.

'I think we could have made a difference'

Raffensberger said Tuesday that he regrets his words and did not intend them to disparage anyone.

“I shouldn't have said anything to begin with, and I'm sorry I did,” he said. “I'm not good at being politically correct. It's really unfortunate that people were offended by the analogy, but I did not call people cockroaches.”

Raffensberger said he really likes the town, enjoys visiting here, and loved the former Three Stones Mexican Mayan Cocina restaurant.

“I cried a little bit when the Three Stones closed, it was one of my favorite restaurants,” Raffensberger said. “I was really looking forward to helping out. I think we could have made a difference. I live by the Golden Rule and treat people the way I want to be treated. I'm very upset and sad. I don't like to be accused of what I was accused of being.

“I was really looking forward to working with the Chief and I want to thank the [town] of Brattleboro for the opportunity to bid on the security contract,” he continued.

“I'd also like to thank those who supported us and apologize for the extra work and headaches my comment caused,” he said. “I wish the residents and the [town] of Brattleboro well.”

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