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Democrats challenge budget vote by phone in court

LACONIA — The five Democratic members of the Belknap County Convention have asked Belknap County Superior Court to overturn the vote that thwarted adoption of the 2014 county budget recommended by the Belknap County Commission.

The vote was taken when the convention met in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on February 18. Only 13 of the 18 members were present when the meeting was convened a half-hour past the scheduled hour of 5 p.m. In addition, Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, arranged for Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), who was tending to a failing roof, to participate by telephone.

Noting the absence of several Republicans, Rep. Beth Arsenault (D-Laconia) offered a motion to adopt the commission's budget, which was second by Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford). They were joined in support of the motion by their fellow Democrats — David Huot of Laconia, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Ruth Gulick of New Hampton — and two Republicans — Reps. Bob Luther and Don Flanders of Laconia.

The other six Republicans present — Reps. Richard Burchell of Gilamnton, Frank Tilton of Laconia, Michael Sylvia of Belmont and Bob Greemore, Herb Vadney and Worsman, all of Meredith — voted against the motion, along with Comtois, who voted by telephone.

With four Republicans — Reps. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Charles Fink of Belmont, and Stephen Holmes and Jane Cormier, both of Alton — absent, the convention deadlocked seven-to-seven and the motion failed.

The suit, naming Worsman and Cormier, the clerk of the convention, alleges that Worsman violated the provisions of the Right-to-Know Law bearing on members participating by telephone. The Democrats note that the convention was not required to allow one or members to participate by "electronic means" and claim 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 claim that since "Rep. Comtois' vote was unlawful and in violation of RSA 91-A:2 " the vote should be overturned.

When the convention met last night (see story on page 1) Worsman sought to amend the minutes of meeting of February 18 to show that before the meeting was convened she and other members referred to the Right-to-Know law and discussed the procedure for allowing Comtois to participate by telephone. Huot reminded her that at the time there was no quorum and not all those who were present were party to the discussion. Arsenault questioned recording a discussion that took place before the meeting in the minutes.

"It's critical and germane," Worsman insisted with an apparent eye to the litigation.

When Worsman's motion to amend the minutes was put to a vote there was much confusion about who was and was not present when the supposed discussion occurred and therefore would be eligible to vote. Ultimately the motion failed five-to-four, with five abstentions.

Obviously troubled by the outcome Worsman tersely noted that the minutes were approved without reference to the discussion of the Right-to-Know law prior to the meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 10:29

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Justin Slattery is new executive director of Belknap Economic Development Council

LACONIA — Justin Slattery has been named executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Corporation. He succeeds Carmen Lorentz, who served in the position for three years before leaving recently to take the position as head of the New Hampshire Department of Economic Development.

The announcement was made by Sean Sullivan, chair of the BEDC board of directors.

Slattery has been on the job since February 24.

A native of the state, Slattery graduated from the University of New Hampshire and has worked in both public and private sector positions for more than 12 years working to build economic development opportunities in New Hampshire. He most recently was employed at the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development where he worked statewide on economic development projects and workforce development initiatives. He has served on several state boards and committees including the Governor's Advanced Manufacturing Educational Advisory Council and the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Advisory Committee.

Slattery's career started as an aide to Governor John Lynch. He has worked extensively in talent management and acquisition positions for several leading New Hampshire firms and was employed by the Workforce Investment Act program working on workforce development projects statewide.

As Belknap EDC executive director, Slattery will be responsible for the development and delivery of programs and services designed to promote economic vitality in Belknap County and the greater Lakes Region. He will direct the organization's budgets, grant administration, revolving loan fund, and strategic planning.

Belknap EDC was founded in 1992, and is one of ten non-profit regional development corporations in the State of New Hampshire. The organization operates a $3 million revolving loan fund that provides gap financing for local businesses and partners with the NH Small Business Development Center and SCORE to provide technical assistance to local businesses. Recently, the organization has focused resources on workforce development programs, developing strategies to retain and attract young talent to the region, and supporting creative entrepreneurs.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 01:24

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Scheduled fight at county jail lands pair in hot water

LACONIA — Two men who are in official custody of the Belknap County House of Corrections are in additional trouble for allegedly fighting in one of the bathrooms.

According to affidavits obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, Michael Hann, 28, and Deric Nevin, 27, allegedly agreed to meet in a bathroom to settle a dispute on January 25 at 8:30 p.m.

The Belknap County Sheriff's Department investigates all alleged criminal activity at the jail, but when the sheriff began the investigation on January 27, both Hann and Nevin invoked their 5th Amendment right to avoid self incrimination and refused to speak to the investigator.

The investigator noticed Hann had multiple stitches on his upper right forehead and Neven's left eye was swollen and dark purple. Nevin also had scratches on his forehead and a split lower lip.

The investigator met with a different inmate who said he allegedly saw Nevin in the bathroom with Hann, who was standing in the shower. He said he heard Nevin say to Hann "Do you want to do this now?"

Hann allegedly replied "Whatever."

The witness said he saw Nevin swing at Hann, striking him in the head. When they started wrestling, the witness said Hann ended up on top of Nevin and was hitting him with his fists.

When the fight ended, he said the two combatants turned on the shower to wash off the blood while two other inmates cleaned up the bathroom.

The investigator said she reviewed the tape and she saw two men who she couldn't identify fighting. After the fight she saw one man push a cleaning cart into the shower followed by a second inmate who mopped the floor, corroborating the information she gathered from the witness.

Both are charged with one count each of assault by prisoner by mutual consent.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 01:19

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Recovery Court program celebrates first graduate

bLACONIA — On December 5, 2013, Heather Albert was facing a trial and a possible prison sentence for felony drug possession. Because of the fledgling Recovery Court, she got a second chance.

Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa Guldbrandsen agreed to drop the felony drug charge if Alpert pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of drug possession. Instead of a 12-month sentence in the Belknap County House of Corrections, she agreed to participate in Recovery Court — a primarily volunteer drug court that took three years to get started. Albert was its first client.

By the next day, said Horizons Counseling Center manager, Albert was ready to quit.

"Just take me to jail," Abikoff recalled Alpert telling her.

But Alpert didn't give up, Abikoff didn't take her to jail, and yesterday, in a ceremony attended by all the program volunteers, N.H. Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, police personnel, probation personnel, corrections personnel, public defenders, her own attorney, and N.H. State Drug Court Coordinator Alex Casale, Alpert became the first graduate of the fledgling court. A mid-day ceremony was held in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

Judge Jim Carroll, whose dream for years has been a drug or recovery court in Belknap County, presided over yesterday's ceremony that he held held in the court room where Alpert spent and hour nearly every Tuesday for the past year discussing her progress and her setbacks.

Albert went to counseling for 3 1/2 hours a day, she did 500 hours of community service work — most of it at the Salvation Army. She went to AA meetings; she earned the equivalent of a high school diploma; and she participated in 35 straight days of intensive therapy.

In the process, she stayed sober and crime free.

After the ceremony, she said she can now "live and become part of the community. That's the stuff I could never see myself doing," she said.

She said she has solidified her relationship with her family, is working on getting scholarships and money to attend to Lakes Region Community College and is looking for a job. She is preparing to move into her own apartment — the first time in her life she has been independent.

For Abikoff, Recovery Court is a "labor of love."

"This will change minds in the community," she said yesterday. "It has already changed minds on this team."

When Recovery Court began not everyone was willing to give a break to self-admitted drug addicts. One of the people brought "kicking and screaming" into the fold was Guldbrandsen, whose job is to put drug offenders behind bars, not rehabilitate them.

During the beginning of the program, Guldbrandsen said she "had a difficult time giving an offender what I consider to be a huge break."

She said she would have to find a "significant enough change (in behavior) and history that I am willing to recommend it.

When asked about it late last week, she said she "now has a greater understanding of drug addiction."

Had the program not been in place, Guldbrandsen said Albert — and 10 others who are now progressing through the program — would have cost the state and county a considerable amount of money for incarceration.

She said she is still willing to cede her lunch hour every Tuesday to participate in the program. She said she'll still see drug use as a crime but she likes the program and enjoys getting to know the participants better.

Abikoff and Guldbrandsen said Recovery Court is not just a way to avoid going to jail. To date, Guldbrandsen said two people have been terminated from it and have gone to jail as a consequence.

Sitting in court is no picnic for the participants either.

Last Tuesday, four people met Carroll's stern stare as they tried to explain why they weren't participating to the degree Abikoff felt was appropriate.

One by one, each had to get up and apologize to the court, to the recovery court team, and to each other for not putting 100 percent of their efforts into the program.

One young man missed a meeting, was not participating in group sessions and had made no effort to begin his 500 hours of community service. He was also behind in his sliding scale payments to the program for its costs.

He explained to Carroll that he missed an appointment with his counselor to buy a car.

"Do you have money for a car?" asked Carroll. The man replied that he had borrowed the money from a family member.

"Well then borrow money for the program," Carroll said, telling him he had until the next Tuesday to complete 10 hours of community service and bring in some money or he would be terminated.

A second woman who had acted out during a counseling session apologized for her behavior and, on an upbeat note, told the court she had arraigned to do her community service at an animal shelter.

The real focus of Recovery Court is addiction said Casale — the state drug court coordinator who told Alpert yesterday that one of the toughest parts of her journey is immediately in front of her.

He told her that being the first person to make it through the program is "a big deal" but taking on the world without supervision and constant treatment can be a huge challenge. He said that by being the first, she would be seen as a example by the community and the pressure on her would be immense.

"Don't let your guard down," he said to her as she nodded her head. "Addiction is for the rest of your life. Do what you need to do to stay sober."

Nadeau had similar words for Albert.

"Now you have the ability to make healthy choices," she said, congratulating Alpert for making it through the program.

Nadeau said one of her goals as chief justice is to have a drug or recovery court in every county in the state.

"I'm excited to be here," Nadeau said. "This is the right way to address addiction and stop re-offending."

 

CAPTION: Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center, left, watches as 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll presents heather Alpbert with a sobriety token and a certificate for her successful completion of the Recovery Court program. Albert is the first graduate of the Belknap County Recovery Court. (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 04:06

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