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Republicans tell judge Dems didn't object to phone vote at the time

LACONIA — The skirmishing among members of the Belknap County Convention reached the Belknap County Superior Court yesterday, when Judge James D. O'Neill, III heard the suit brought against Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), the chairman of the Belknap County Convention, for permitting a member to participate by telephone in what proved a critical vote.
After a hearing that lasted about 45 minutes O'Neill said he would take the matter, together with a motion to dismiss filed by Worman's attorney, under advisement.
The vote was taken when the convention, then wrestling with the 2014 county budget, met in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on February 18, which delayed the assembly of a quorum until three-quarters of an hour past the appointed time of 5 p.m. Only 13 of the 18 members were present when the meeting was convened. Prior to convening the meeting Worsman arranged for Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), who was tending to a failing roof, to participate by telephone. When the meeting opened, Worsman explained Comtois would participate by telephone, an instrument was placed on the table and she spoke with him to confirm their connection.
Rep. Beth Arsenault (D-Laconia) offered a motion to adopt the commission's budget, which was second by Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford). The members in the room divided seven-to-six in favor of the motion, but Comtois, participating by telephone, voted against and the motion failed. Two weeks later, on March 4, the normal convention majority adopted its own version of the county budget.
Meanwhile, on March 3, the five Democrats filed suit, charging that Worsman violated the provisions of the Right-to-Know Law bearing on members participating by telephone. The Democrats noted that the statute authorizes but does not require the convention to allow one or more members to participate by "electronic means" and claimed that the decision properly rested with the convention, not the chair. Moreover, they charge that no notice was given to the convention that Comtois would be permitted to participate by telephone nor was the reason he could not be physically present recorded in the minutes as the statute requires. Finally, contrary to the law, Comtois failed to identify anyone else present at the location from which he was participating.
Consequently, the Democrats, concluding that Rep. Comtois's vote was "unlawful," asked the court to set it aside, overturn the vote of convention rejecting the commission's budget, and set aside the vote of March 4 adopting the convention's budget.
Representing the Democrats, Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia), told the court yesterday that the issue hinged on the authority of convention to permit a member to participate by telephone. The statute reads that "a public body may, but is not required to, allow one or more members of the body to participate in a meeting by electronic or other means of communication." He said that Worsman failed to put the question to the convention, which did not consider or discuss Comtois's participation.
Attorney Barton Mayer, representing Worsman, countered that the statute does not suggest the convention must expressly "permit" or "authorize" a member to participate by electronic means. Noting that public bodies like the convention adopt their own rules, he said that the county convention is governed by the chair, subject to the will of the majority. For example, Mayer recalled that earlier on the evening of February 18 Worsman proposed recessing the meeting because of the weather only to be overruled. He said that no one objected either when Worsman announced Comtois would participate by telephone or after he cast his vote and the tally was taken.
The statute, Mayer continued, reads "allow," and asked "was he allowed to participate?" He answered "no doubt, no dispute. He voted. No dispute." Mayer said that the video tape recorded a member saying he was not aware the convention had adopted a rule allowing a member to vote by "proxy." Calling the remark "an invitation to object," Mayer repeated that no one objected.
Mayer noted that by voting to adopting the 2014 county budget on March 4, the convention confirmed the legitimacy of the vote rejecting the commission's recommended budget on February 18. To overturn that vote the court would have to find that Comtois was not allowed to participate, for which there is no evidence. Moreover, Mayer explained that the court could set aside the action of the convention but not the vote of one of its members. Since the convention took no action on February 18, he said the issue was moot.
"This a political question brought to this court," Mayer told the judge.
Finally, to underscore his argument, Mayer cited the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which held that "Although interested parties are entitled to object to any error they perceive in governmental proceedings . . . they are not entitled to take later advantage of error they could have discovered or chose to ignore at the very moment when it could have been corrected."

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 12:06

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Man charged with stealing antique gun & forging signature on stolen check

LACONIA — A man police describe as transient is in police custody and is charged with one count of receiving stolen property and one count of forgery.

City police said Stephen Donahue, 27, was in Franklin when he was spotted by one of their patrol officers who knew Laconia had two separate warrants outstanding for his arrest.

Donahue appeared in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division Friday morning and was ordered held on $5,000 cash-only bail.

According to affidavits filed with the court, Donahue allegedly stole an antique gun June 15, 2013 that was at a booth at the Antique Center in downtown Laconia. The owner of the gun — a .50 caliber Connecticut Valley Arms black powder pistol — told police he had brought the gun in to one of the dealers to have him look at it.

The owner said his friend wasn't at his booth so he left it in an open case. The booth operator called the victim at 4 p.m. to ask him if he had left the gun there and if so where did he put it.

She reviewed the video surveillance and learned a man had taken it but she didn't know his name. The owner reported the theft three days later.

Police reviewed the logs of a local pawn shop and realized a similar gun had been pawned there on the same day as the theft. Police asked the pawn shop owner to set it aside because they had reason to think it was stolen.

When the victim provided the serial number of the gun to police it matched the one on the gun at the pawn shop and it was confiscated. Pawn shop records allegedly showed the person who sold it was Donahue.

In the matter of forgery, police responded on August 10 to a reported break in. Two days later the officer learned the some checks from the victim's checkbook were missing and had been cashed a Meredith Village Savings Bank.

The MVSB security officer verified the stolen checks were cashed and the teller had gotten a driver's license from the man who cashed them and it belonged to Donahue.

Since the bank reimbursed the victims, that makes it the real victims of forgery.
Donahue was also scheduled to plead guilty to a drug charge in the Belknap County Superior Court yesterday however his appearance was postponed.

As of Friday night, Donahue was in the Belknap County House of Corrections.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 11:58

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Erickson retires LFD Dive Team

LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson said yesterday that his decision to retire the department's Dive Team reflected the changed circumstances of the unit, while emphasizing that the capacity of the department to respond to emergencies on water and ice remained undiminished.

The Dive Team was begun, inspired and led by firefighter Mark Miller, who drowned beneath the ice off Weirs Beach while training on March 11, 2004. Erickson said that he delayed his announcement until after the department marked the tenth anniversary of Miller's passing and speaking with his widow Gayle and Cynthia Makris, whose father Peter was the team's leading patron.

Last year, when Municipal Resources, Inc. undertook an analysis of the operations and staffing of the Fire Department, included among its recommendations was a suggestion that the department reconsider the Dive Team and concentrate its resources on its most essential functions and responsibilities. "I had been thinking about it before the report," Erickson said, "but that focused my attention."

Erickson said that with Miller's leadership and inspiration the team numbered nine fully certified divers, trained in underwater rescue and recovery as well as to dive underneath a frozen surface, and a full complement of tenders to assist them. However, since then the number has dwindled with retirements, injuries and aging . "We're running short of qualified divers," he said. He explained that for one diver to enter the water safely, at least a second diver and tender in support are required.

Moreover, Erickson said that experience cast doubt on the role of the Dive Team. "We had a couple of drownings," he noted, "but by the time we could get a diver in the water, we weren't going to rescue anybody." He recalled that several years ago, when a swimmer drowned off Bond Beach, Firefighter Mike Shastany raced from his home, donned his mask and flippers and recovered the lifeless body. "We still have that capability," Erickson said, adding that in any event the recovery of victims of drowning is the responsibility of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department.
He said that the Dive Team spent more time seeking to recover evidence for the Police Department than engaged in underwater rescues.

However, Erickson stressed that the department has the personnel and equipment to respond to emergencies on the water and ice. The fleet consists of two inflatables, one of 15 feet at Central Station and another of 21 feet at The Weirs, the Fire/Rescue Boat bearing Miller's name and a 21-foot center console craft on loan from New Hampshire Marine Patrol. With one at the Water Street boat launch, another at the Laconia Water Works and a third at The Weirs, Erickson said that the department is positioned to respond quickly on all the lakes as well as the Winnipesaukee River.

"The Dive Team was a relatively small component of our water rescue capability," he said. "We are still the first responders and we have the training and the boats to do the job."

The equipment and operations of the Dive Team were financed entirely by private donations to the Life Saving Fund, which was established in 2004. Erickson said that the fund will remain in place to support the department's marine operations as well as the Laconia CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and Veterans Count, an affiliate of the Easter Seals program.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 11:38

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Police remain at Belmont home 9 hours after medical 911 call received

BELMONT — At 4 p.m. yesterday, police were still at the scene of an apparent investigation at 7 Northbrook Road. They arrived on the scene, some nine hours earlier in response to a medical call at 4:45 a.m.

Lt. Richard Mann said some people who were in the home called 9-1-1 and reported that there was a medical emergency. When police and fire arrived, they found someone performing CPR on a unnamed 23-year-old male.

Emergency personnel took over and the man was taken to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia His whereabouts now is unknown but Mann said he is still alive.

Mann said there were five people in the mobile home and all of them agreed to be interviewed by police to see if there had been any criminal activity. He said none of them appeared to be intoxicated and none of them are facing any charges.

He said the unidentified man was a Belmont native but beyond that he declined to comment. Mann said he believes the man was an occasional resident of the home but said actual resident of the property has been hospitalized recently for illness.

Belmont detectives wearing white protective gear could be seen coming in and out of the mobile home and depositing things in a police vehicle. Mann said the apparent search was the result of a search warrant obtained by police earlier in the day.

The door to the home was blocked by crime scene tape and the outside of the home was strewn with what appeared to be children's toys. Mann said there were no children in the home when police and firefighters arrived.

Samantha Hall said she lives in the same mobile home park and said the people who live at 7 Northbrook Road have lived there for a few months.

She said she has seen cars come to the home. "Sometimes they're the same cars and sometimes they're different," she said.

Hall said she has a job, often works in the evenings, and doesn't know the people who live there.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 11:33

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