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Abuse of Power Allegations Leveled against School Committee Chairman

Allegations come from a fellow committee member, who says Portsmouth School Committee chairman has been acting like a self-appointed superintendent, most-recently authorizing the pouring of a concrete slab without approval.

This concrete slab was poured illegally without School Committee approval or even the school's facilities department knowing, a School Committee member alleges. (Submitted Photo)
This concrete slab was poured illegally without School Committee approval or even the school's facilities department knowing, a School Committee member alleges. (Submitted Photo)
This story was updated at 3:34, 3:58 and 6:15 p.m.

A freshly-poured concrete slab for a donated pavilion to be built at the new Portsmouth High School field near the home team bleachers was installed on June 23.

But there's a problem, one School Committee member alleges.

"The full School Committee never saw the plans for the pavilion nor approved its construction," school Committee Member Frederick W. Faerber III said. "Mr. Croston alone approved its construction. Not only was this an egregious and illegal exercise of non-existent authority by Mr. Croston it was not properly permitted and inspected by the Town Building Inspector as required."

Faerber, who recently promised to do everything he could to ensure that committee Chairman David Croston isn't reelected come November has begun releasing what he said is a series of detailed accusations alleging abuse of power and wanton disregard of district and School Committee policies.

The slab is part of a pavilion that once completed, according to drafted plans, will be named Prescott Point Pavilion and was donated by Chris Bicho and Hurd Construction, Faerber said. 

Faerber said while it's a generous donation, it was poured and installed without the proper procedure being followed.

"Neither the Town Building Inspector nor the School Department’s Facilities Director were aware of the pouring of the concrete slab," Faerber said.

In an interview, Croston said he did make the call for the slab to go in and it was for the sake of time and money. Due to the status of the ongoing work nearby relating to the track resurfacing,  the time was now to put in the slab or it would cost much more down the road. 

"It was done privately, paid for privately," Croston said, noting the School Committee has a chance to approve the Pavilion at an upcoming meeting.

"I used my best judgement to before going in to put [the slab in] before it's double the price to put a slab in," Croston said. "If the School Committee fails to approve that slab, we'll pay to have it taken off."

While it might just seem like a small slab of concrete, the project is just the latest in a string of incidents, Faerber said.

"As I have repeatedly said, SC members have no authority outside a SC session. On many issues and occasions Mr. Croston has ignored that restriction and created the illusion that he has some power and authority that SC members do not have," Faerber said.

Perhaps the most glaring incident was the video surveillance system issue that began in March or April of 2013, when Croston came before the committee to present a proposal to install a system at the high school.

A friend of the owner of the company hired to supply the equipment, Croston recused himself from the presentation and voting on its acquisition.

The committee liked the proposal, voting unanimously to install the system, swayed in part by the no-cost for the first six months and option to renew afterwards.

But there was a problem.

"None of us knew that Mr. Croston would personally install the system as he did. Mr. Croston entered the high school on a Saturday morning and proceeded to install the system himself," Faerber said.

The system did not work, Faerber said, and Croston was not licensed to do the work but did it anyway. And Croston never gave subsequent updates on the system "or even mentioned it again."

"Out of fear of retribution from Mr. Croston who was acting illegally as de facto Superintendent the facilities staff was reluctant to remove the system and it was in place uselessly for about a year until it was removed. I doubt Mr. Croston even knows the system has been removed," Faerber said. "Mr. Croston put the safety and security of the high school at risk for at least a year. A new system is about to be installed in all school buildings shortly."

Croston contends that Faerber's description of the incident is an exaggeration and inaccurate. The reason the system didn't work was a firewall issue with the school's computer network, preventing the data stream from being sent to the company's Middletown headquarters.

Since Croston did the work without a permit, Faerber said if there was a fire or disruption of existing cabling the consequences could have been "catastrophic" and taxpayers were at risk since he would not have been carrying contractor's insurance.

And then there's the TVs in Town Hall Council Chambers, which were also installed by Croston and initially not up to fire code standards, Faerber alleges. The School Department was forced to bring in licensed electricians to get the system up to code and that work was permitted on March 28 and the work was completed on April 16 of 2013.

Croston said he donated more than $500, maybe $600 worth of equipment including brackets for the TVs and the racks for networking equipment, as well as boxes for equipment storage.

"I did not install any of the electrical," Croston said. "It was done by Coastal Electric. I donated my time — I donated that equipment."

In regards to the security camera system, Croston said he helped install one camera on the second floor of the high school in the presence of the school principal in response to a series of bomb threats there. 

That work wasn't done on a Saturday. And as far as he knew, the camera was still there and he donated his time and so did the company the committee hired, which was offering to use Portsmouth as a pilot project.

"I donated my time, they donated their time in kind to save the school district over $15,000," Croston said.

When pressed on whether approving the slab without approval might seem to be overstepping his authority, Croston said he had no regrets and he believes the slab and the Pavilion will be approved by the School Committee unanimously. 

He also said Faerber's allegation that the pavilion has already been named Prescott Point Pavilion is unfair and the naming would be voted on. He said any project with plans that have been drafted usually get an internal name, or a placeholder name.

And to Farber's statements about all the issues in general, Croston said he just is trying to get positive things done for the town, suggesting Farber is engaging in a campaign that "will stifle all the good deeds that get done in Portsmouth."

Faerber said he plans to make a motion to remove Croston as chair of the External Athletic/Playground Improvements Subcommittee, also known as the T3 Project, for his "illegal actions along with potential other punitive measures."

"Simply put Mr. Croston cannot be trusted to manage the T3 project and protect the interests of the School Department and taxpayers of Portsmouth. Taxpayers should be outraged at the potential safety and financial liabilities he has exposed them to. Mr. Croston has no regard for laws and regulations," Faerber said.

Croston has been facing a steadily-louder drumbeat of criticism in recent months, notably from a group of school officials who signed a joint statement accusing him of inappropriate conduct and unprofessional behavior after he reportedly screamed at a school principal during a meeting. 

In response to some of the pressure, Croston last week said he would step down as chairman but remain on the committee and intended on seeking reelection. 

Not my first rodeo July 12, 2014 at 02:19 PM
Bunch of old men fighting like bitches^^^^ "i can lift!" "Well my nephew can too!" Holy shit you all sound dumb
OldTownie July 12, 2014 at 03:33 PM
And your the same ass you have always been. You should probably change your name to "Not my first Broke back rodeo".
Not my first rodeo July 16, 2014 at 10:35 AM
And you shiuld change yours too "oldscaredtodeath"
OldTownie July 16, 2014 at 01:31 PM
Sorry Rodeo, not interested in your sexual fantasies.
Not my first rodeo July 16, 2014 at 08:17 PM
Lol see ya at tremblays

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