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SEABROOK, N.H.

No author claims petition for drug tests

It's tough to find anyone in Seabrook who can publicly explain why there is a move to have all town workers and volunteers randomly tested for drugs and alcohol.

But if voters approve Article 38 on the March 9 Town Meeting warrant, all town workers and volunteer board members will be subject to random drug and alcohol tests. The citizens petition, signed by 78 people, calls for the testing of ''full-time and part-time employees, including the Board of Selectmen and all other elected officials, appointed supervisors/department heads, town manager, town clerks and secretaries, town fire and police personnel."

Opinion in town is sharply divided. Critics say random drug testing would be invasive, expensive, and a deterrent to people who volunteer on town boards.

''It's an invasion of personal privacy," said Conservation Commission chairwoman Sue Foote. ''If you're that zoned out on alcohol or drugs, it's going to show up in your work anyway."

Foote, vice chairwoman of the Planning Board and a member of several other town boards, called the drug-testing proposal an ''unfunded mandate" at a time when the town is financially stressed.

She also said innocent people could wind up embarrassed by ''false-positive" test results.

''I am a certified herbalist specializing in native medicinal herbs. I consume a lot of herbs, and the combinations of chemicals in these herbs can give you false-positive tests," said Foote, adding that the less expensive drug test cannot distinguish between heroin and poppy seeds. ''If you like poppy seeds, poppy seed cake, and poppy seed bagels, through the urine test, you're going to test positive for heroin."

Foote said many residents oppose the measure, and that if the drug-testing plan passes, she'll quit all her volunteer posts.

''I'm going to walk away from them all," she said.

But at a time when Seabrook police have said the town is plagued with a heroin epidemic, supporters of the measure say that testing all town workers and officials makes sense.

''I never took drugs in my life, and I don't even smoke cigarettes, so I'd volunteer to be the first," said Seabrook water and sewer superintendent Warner Knowles. ''I don't even take aspirin."

''I'd be tested any time," said Seabrook Town Clerk Bonnie L. Fowler, a 27-year veteran town employee. ''I believe I'm serving the people here at this window to the best of my abilities, and I don't have a problem with that."

Interviewed in his office, Seabrook Town Manager Frederick Welch said the town now uses drug tests for heavy equipment operators with commercial drivers' licenses, Recreation Department employees who work with children, and new hires.

Welch said he knows of no other Seacoast towns that require all employees, elected officials, and volunteer board members to be tested for drugs. ''I don't know of any that require testing for everyone," he said.

Asked whether the town can afford it, Welch said, ''If the citizens vote it, we will afford it."

Welch said he did not know what prompted the petition. Anyone can mount a citizens petition by collecting 25 signatures, and the lead signer is considered the sponsor, Welch said. But no one spoke out on behalf of the petition at the deliberative session of Town Meeting this month, he said.

The signers ''were not present at the deliberative session, and they had no representative there, so the questions were not answered," said Welch.

Adding to the confusion, the petition's lead signer, Elizabeth J. Brown of Collins Street, denied signing the petition.

In a telephone interview, Brown said neither she nor her husband, former town public works employee James Brown, were involved with the petition, although their names top the list of signers.

''I'm not the one who put it in," she said. ''My husband didn't put it in either. I just don't want to get into it." Asked whether someone else signed her name to the petition, she said, ''I don't know."

She refused to say who else might have filed the petition in her name or why it was filed. ''I don't know why," Brown said. ''We didn't do it."

Reached later at her home for a face-to-face interview, she said only: ''I don't want to talk about it."

Seabrook Selectman Asa Knowles Jr., who signed the petition, said it was filed in Elizabeth Brown's name by accident. Knowles said the petition is the brainchild of her husband, James Brown, a cousin of his.

''Her husband's the one who did it," said Knowles. ''He put her first by mistake. He didn't sign her name. What I'm saying is when they put it in, him being a gentleman, she put her name first and he put his after. You know, like ladies first."

Reached by phone, James Brown said he and his wife and nephew signed the petition but he said he was not behind it. ''I didn't do it," said James Brown.

Asked who launched the petition, James Brown said, ''I don't know. I just signed one, my wife signed one, and my nephew signed one. I signed it, but I didn't start it. . . . I wasn't the one who brought it up."

Selectmen chairman Oliver Carter Jr. said James Brown filed the same petition last year, but it was forgotten during the transition between town managers.

''Jim's a complicated person," said Carter. ''He's very outspoken, but he doesn't always want to give you reasons why."

Seabrook Selectwoman Karen Knight said last year's petition failed to be considered for the warrant because it fell two signatures short of the required 25.

Knight, a registered nurse, said she doesn't mind being tested for drugs and alcohol. ''I'm already tested at work, so I have no problem with it," Knight said.

But she questioned why anyone would file a petition and refuse to defend it: ''Don't you wonder why anyone would file a petition and then not talk about it?"

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