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Commissioners accused of neglecting county jail

 
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners took it on the chin last night as the Executive Committee of the County Convention rejected two of the three requests for fund transfers the commissioners had sought, and a member of the public accused commissioners of neglecting the maintenance at the Belknap County House of Correction in order to force the county to build a new jail.
''They're leaving it a mess to force a new jail on us,'' charged David DeVoy of Sanbornton, who was joined in his criticism of the three-member commission by other members of the public, as well as members of the County Convention, for their handling of the jail situation.
One member of the audience asked why the County Commissioners weren't at the County Convention meeting, which followed on the heels of the Executive Committee meeting, which was attended by one member of the commission, Chairman John Thomas of Belmont.
County Administrator Debra Shackett of Belmont said that members of the commission weren't aware until Monday morning that the agenda for the County Convention meeting had been changed from the one the county website which said that the meeting was called to hear a request from the Gunstock Mountain Resort for a revue anticipation note to include new items, including a discussion of the ongoing battle over control of line items in the county budget and a discussion of the jail situation.
''They had no knowledge that the convention was going beyond the Gunstock request. We didn't find out until eight o'clock Monday morning what items had been added to the agenda,'' said Shackett, who pointed out that the commissioners didn't have sufficient time in which to post a public notice that they would be meeting as a public body Monday night.
''They couldn't be here because they didn't know,'' said Shackett.
One woman in the audience asked if there was a process to unseat the commissioners and Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) suggested she look at state statues which would allow her to petition for their removal.
The public's criticisms of the commissioners came after members of the convention, a dozen of whom had toured the Belknap County House of Corrections earlier in the day, talked about their impressions of the facility and the process followed by the commissioners in coming up with a proposal they have received from consultants for a new $42.5 million Community Corrections facility.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) talked about the history of the jail planning process and said that convention members had agreed to a $160,000 supplemental appropriation in 2012 with the thought that there would be a plan for a new facility.
''They got the best in the country and they cost the best too,'' said Tilton, who said that the Ricci Greene consulting firm came up with a plan which had two options, both for new construction, but nothing that was anywhere close to a final design and had ruled out options for use of the current facility.
Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith), said that he saw a lot of deficiencies when he toured the jail two years ago which have since been corrected and that he was hopeful that a solution could be devised which would provide for better maintenance of the current facility and and the creation of new program space.
Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said that any addition or renovations which increased the current jail size by 15 percent would trigger a requirement that all of its systems be brought up to current code, which would be extremely expensive.
Delegation Chairman Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) said that she didn't think money had been spent wisely in the past, including what she said was $500,000 for an addition to the Belknap County complex which included the meeting room used by the convention and offices for the commissioners, and said the money should have been spent on repairs to the jail.
Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford) said that the county needed to do things correctly when it came to the jail situation and wondered what role convention members could play in jail planning. Rep. Burchell proposed having a subcommittee, but Rep. Tilton said that wasn't the role of the convention and that the commissioners already had a jail planning committee.
County Administrator Shackett said that the committee has been working hard to develop a plan and is studying six different options, including contracting with another county, and would welcome public input from members of the convention and others.
Greemore said that he had been invited to take part in some of the jail planning meetings and had attended a few, but thought they were too heavily weighted with members of the corrections community and didn't have much in the way of general public input, including from contractors and construction people.
He joked that since ''we are bad people doing bad things'' he might take an interest in attending some future jail planning committee meetings.
His comment about ''bad people'' came from a comment made by Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) at a recent Belknap County Democratic Party picnic at which Philpot criticized the Republican majority of the County Convention.
Philpot was re-elected to a second term on the commission in 2012, defeating Dave DeVoy, the man who charged last night that commissioners were neglecting the jail.
The transfer requests defeated by the Executive Committee, which met prior to the Convention meeting, involved $4,500 for the County Convention, defeated 6-0 with one abstention, and $5,500 for the Finance Department for an employee change in health coverage, by a 4-3 vote.
Approved by a 4-3 vote was the transfer of $5,500 to Corrections Department salary account. The commission had requested a $10,500 transfer.

 
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