Rep. Burchell challenges county commission’s choice of legal counsel

LACONIA — The two Belknap County Commissioners who voted last week to hire Attorney Paul Fitzgerald of the Wescott Law office as legal counsel for the commission defended their actions last night at a meeting of the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee.
Both Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton), commission vice chairman, said that the choice of Fitzgerald, a former Laconia mayor with a long history of serving as legal counsel for the city of Franklin, was in the best interest of the taxpayers of the county.
''He is familiar with the issues and is experienced and knowledgeable,'' said DeVoy.
But Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who voted against Fitzgerald and said that he had wanted to look at attorneys from out of town, said that Fitzgerald ''was wrong ethically in what he did'' in preparing an employment contract requested by the previous Belknap County Commissioners for County Administrator Debra Shackett. He claimed that Fitzgerald had given the contract to Shackett for her approval before it went before the commissioners.
Commissioner Taylor said that he had never blamed Fitzgerald for the contract, which he said was what the previous commissioners had asked him to do. ''It's not an illegal contract. He's highly competent and experienced and I don't want to go out of town for an attorney,'' said Taylor, who is himself an attorney.
The issue came up at the conclusion of a meeting of the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee which had been called to deal with budget transfer requests from the commissioners. It was initiated by Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford), who said that he was not pleased with the hiring of Fitzgerald, citing his role in drafting the employment contract and the fact that he had represented DeVoy in a lawsuit which had been brought against DeVoy and fellow commissioner Taylor in Belknap County Superior Court by commissioner Burchell. He said that he thought it was bad public policy.
Burchell's lawsuit sought to overturn the action of his fellow commissioners in ousting him as chairman of the commission in early March. Burchell's request to remain as chairman was denied and DeVoy remained as the new chairman.
DeVoy said that it was not his point to have to go to court to defend his action in ousting Burchell as chairman and that it had been brought about by Burchell's own action in refusing to acknowledge the right of the majority of the commission to change chairmen.
When Hurt said that he still thought that the choice of Fitzgerald was wrong, DeVoy said that he thinks Fitzgerald is right for the county and that the current commissioners are ''leading from the front'' by asserting their authority and not handing it over to appointed administrators.
Burchell said that the Fitzgerald nomination was handled so quickly that he never had a chance to bring up other candidates. He has been at odds with his fellow commissioners since shortly after Taylor was appointed in early January and has been a consistent critic of Shackett, having written in a e-mail to county legislators that she and former Finance Director Glen Waring were to blame for many of the county's problems.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Belknap County Convention, said that the entire conversation was off base. "The commissioners do not report to us. This is not our business. We should not be discussing this,'' said Tilton.
He said that he personally thinks the choice of Fitzgerald is a good one and said that ''he's not responsible for the sins of his clients. I've heard nothing but good about him.''


Former Inter-Lakes superintendent interviews for interim Laconia job

LACONIA — Former Inter-Lakes superintendent Phil McCormack was interviewed last night by the subcommittee of the School Board tasked with finding and recommending a part-time administrator to lead the district next year.

McCormack was Inter-Lakes Regional School District's superintendent from 2001 until his retirement in 2012.

The following year, he was called from retirement by the N.H. School Boards Association to lead the Newfound Regional School District for a few months during the late Superintendent Marie Ross's illness. When she passed away, McCormack stayed for the remainder of the year.

The interview was conducted in public, however at the end of it, the three members – School Board Chair Joe Cormier and members Stacie Sirois and Scott Vachon – went into a non-public session with McCormack. Also at the interview and staying for the non-public session were Asst. Superintendent Kirk Beitler and Business Administrator Ed Emond.

The search for an interim superintendent was triggered by current Superintendent Terri Forsten's decision to leave Laconia at the end of this school year to take over the helm at Concord School District. Because Concord's final decision came late in the year, the Laconia School Board decided to hire an interim, according to Vachon, to promote initiatives already in place and calm the nerves of some employees who fear change, while it begins the process of recruiting a full-time superintendent.

Before going into the non-public session, Cormier said there were no more interviews scheduled for last night and, at that point, no more interviews scheduled for the immediate future.

The board met last week in a closed door session with Dr. Kenneth DeBenedictis of the New England School Development Council (NESDC), the firm the board chose to help it search for an interim superintendent who will serve until July 1, 2016.

DeBenedictis had brought two recommendations for the district's interim superintendent and the committee met in non-public to discuss both of them.

It is the School Board's intent to hire an interim and then immediately begin the process of hiring a permanent superintendent who they expect to name in December of 2015 and who will begin with the district in July of 2016.

The interim position will be for 32 hours a week with an hourly pay rate and no health insurance benefits.

The search committee is expected to make a recommendation to the full School Board for action after tonight's meeting.

Opechee Park Association donates $18,500 to help build picnic pavilion

LACONIA – The City Council last night took the first step toward accepting a contribution of not more than $18,500 from the Opechee Park Association on the understanding that the funds will be applied to the construction of picnic pavilion at Opechee Park.

The council unanimously adopted on first reading a resolution authorizing the city manager to accept the donation for "the sole purpose of the construction of a covered picnic pavilion at the park area known as Opechee Cove. The council will hold a public hearing on the donation during its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, June 8.

The association was formed in the 1930s to provide social and leisure activities at the park and much later organized as a nonprofit corporation. For many years the association leased the Opechee Park Clubhouse from the city, which in turn it rented to other organizations, individuals and families where they hosted regular meetings, staged various events and celebrated special occasions. The rental income from the clubhouse supported the activities of the association.

In 2012, the clubhouse, which had fallen into disrepair, was demolished. Tim Dunleavy, president of the association, said that without the clubhouse the association had neither a suitable venue nor a revenue stream and its membership waned. Earlier this year, the association chose to dissolve and offer its remaining balance to the city for construction of a picnic pavilion.

NOTE: The City Council also adopted on first reading resolutions to accept a donation from the Town of Gilford of $4,000 toward a geomorphological study of Black Brook and its watershed and a donation of $1,168 from the Bow WOW Fest for the K-9 unit o the Laconia Police Department.