By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — The town became New Hampshire’s capital for a day.
Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Executive Council abandoned the Statehouse yesterday to set up shop for a few hours at Windham High to deal with the business of running the state.
Town moderator Peter Griffin came to watch.
“This is incredibly important,” Griffin said, as he looked around the high school theater at the assembly of the powerful out from behind their desks in Concord. “The Executive Council is one of the most powerful bodies in the state and they chose Windham to hold one of their meetings.”
On a busy day, the council approved millions in contracts, including a $2.4 million deal for a Maine company to design a new state prison for women and a $25 million pact with Bank of America for credit card services with state agencies.
Councilors confirmed, amid much praise, the reappointment of the state’s longest serving commissioner, Van McLeod, who oversees Cultural Resources.
Principal Ryan Kaplan welcomed the governor and council over a breakfast of quiche, coffee and juice.
Kaplan related student and faculty accomplishments at the five-year-old school and highlighted a technology program that puts an Apple laptop in every freshman’s hands.
He told state officials about 90 percent of the school’s students take part in athletics or extracurricular activities.
“One of our goals this year is to get that number higher,” he said.
Bethany Bernasconi, a former New Hampshire teacher of the year, spoke about the marine science club, which she said has ranked in competition among the best in the nation.
Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who represents Windham, said the school is a testament to what first-class facilities can do.
Seniors Tim Raymond and Clairee Putnam led Hassan and the council on a tour of the school.
They said they hoped to let the governor know about the positive student-teacher relationships and modern technology that make Windham High a good school.
“We go above and beyond to help all students,” Clairee said.
Hassan inspected the school’s television studio and met with math and honors class students.
“Phenomenal lab,” Hassan said as she left one room.
The governor asked some of the students to contemplate how the state’s government stays engaged with its citizens.
“New Hampshire does democracy better than anywhere else,” Hassan said.
The school’s chorus and band performed before the council meeting.
The governor read commendations honoring the school’s robotics team and students who successfully launched a high altitude weather balloon over New Hampshire.
The robotics team brought out its robot.
“This robot, among other things, throws Frisbees and climbs pyramids,” Hassan said.
At one point, the governor said she doesn’t worry about the future when she sees students such as those in Windham.
About 75 people attended the meeting, but few town residents. Most were officials from Concord.
Reps. Mary Griffin, Kevin Waterhouse and Walter Kolodziej, who represent Windham, came by to say hello to Hassan and the council.
Superintendent Winfried Feneberg and School Board members Michelle Farrell, Jerome Rekart and Mike Joanis greeted state officials. Police Chief Gerald Lewis came, too.
Pelham Town Administrator Tom Gaydos stopped by for the breakfast, where he caught up with an old friend, Executive Councilor Ray Burton.
“I knew Tom when he was town manager of Ashland,” Burton said, recalling how Gaydos made a difference in that town. “He got things squared away.”
Burton said when the council goes on the road — it tries to hold meetings in each councilor’s district during the year — local officials and residents will come speak to them.
“That’s representative government at work,” Burton said.
Griffin came, in part, as a student of government.
“I don’t think people understand the role of the Executive Council. Their function to a lot of people is vague,” Griffin said. “They dispense funds. They vote to receive funds. They have to approve all the appointments the governor makes.”
Burton said the council is very much like a board of directors for a company.
That the council takes the mission seriously was evident during the meeting.
Sununu characterized as “abusive” how bidders for a state study were only a few hundred dollars apart.
Office of Energy and Planning director Meredith Hatfield explained what the state expected to spend had become known during legislative discussion.
“It is a challenge when the number is public,” Hatfield acknowledged.
Councilor Deborah Pignatelli expressed disappointment another contract had not been bid.
“We’re better off when we do that,” she said.