One way to cool off

8-11 Harts Slush

Michaela Sorrell, employee at Hart's Slush in Weirs Beach, served Elizabeth Callaghan and Audra and George Hebert on Thursday afternoon, when the temperature rose into the mid-90s. Sorrell said business is brisk when it's warm, but when it's as hot as it was on Thursday, few people venture out onto Lakeside Avenue. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Sales tax smears - Mysterious meeting is at heart of countercharges flying in County Commission Contest


LACONIA — A mysterious meeting alleged to have been held recently at a Gilford restaurant is at the heart of charges of a smear campaign being waged in contested primary races for Republican nominations for the Belknap County Commission.
Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) claimed in a letter printed in Tuesday's Laconia Daily Sun that state representatives George Hurt (R-Gilford) and Ray Howard (R-Alton) have been spreading rumors that Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton), whom DeVoy supports in the primary, supports a county sales tax.
DeVoy said that both Hurt and Howard are part of alliance which supports incumbent Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) and Jonathan Smolin (R-Alton). Smolin is running against Taylor in the primary.  Burchell is running for re-election in his own district, opposed by Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton)
DeVoy, who has announced his support for Burchell's primary rival, former Belknap County Finance Director Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton), said there is a Burchell/Smolin alliance which is trying to trick taxpayers into believing county commissioners have the authority to increase taxes, which they do not. No one below the level of the Legislature has the power to levy taxes not expressly approved by the Legislature.
In his letter, DeVoy charges that Burchell and Smolin were both present at a meeting at a Gilford restaurant along with Hurt and Howard and four other individuals at which advertising for the upcoming primary election was discussed.
In another letter, also printed in Tuesday's Laconia Daily Sun, Smolin said he does support Burchell but said that his campaign is not linked with Burchell's and said DeVoy's statements "bear no relationship to the truth" and that he is owed an apology.

Hurt said the meeting described by DeVoy never took place and expressed his support for Smolin in a letter published in Wednesday's Daily Sun in which he writes DeVoy "has apparently been afflicted with a vivid imagination arising out of his lust for power." Howard has also denied being at the meeting described by DeVoy.
The charge that Taylor supports a county sales tax was first made in a letter to the Daily Sun from Elizabeth Gamage of Alton which was published in the Aug. 2 edition. The following day a letter from Taylor was published in which he said that there is a "sneaky whispering campaign" being conducted and that he has never advocated a county sales tax, pointing out that such a move would be tantamount to committing political suicide.
DeVoy first made the charge of an alliance between the Burchell and Smolin campaigns and the meeting at a Gilford restaurant at the Aug. 3 meeting of the Belknap County Commissioners, at which he also mentioned the statements about Taylor and a county sales tax which he alleges were being made by Hurt and Howard.
In an Aug. 5 letter from Burchell which was published in The Laconia Daily Sun, Burchell denied that there is a link between his campaign and the Smolin campaign and said DeVoy is willing to smear him without evidence. He also said that the meetings of the commissioners were '"not an opportunity to pursue gossip or for idle speculation."
A letter from Burchell published in today's paper claims that he hasn't set foot in a Gilford restaurant in over a year and that he, not Taylor, is the victim of a smear campaign.
The relationship between the three current commissioners has been stormy ever since early 2015, when Burchell, who was elected as chairman of the commission in January of 2015, was ousted as chairman and replaced by DeVoy at a March 2, 2015, meeting during which Burchell attempted to prevent his ouster by continually rapping the gavel and declaring that the other commissioners were out of order.
At a June 4 meeting last year, commissioners Taylor and DeVoy censured Burchell for leaking information from a nonpublic meeting held while Burchell was still chairman to former Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Matthew Logue.
DeVoy and Taylor again censured Burchell in May of this year for what they said was official misconduct in connection with his attempts to access protected medical records in the state Department of Health and Human Services database.
Taylor said at that time that he had originally been inclined to overlook the failed attempt by Burchell to gain access to the database as a case of "no harm, no foul," but said that on deeper reflection he came to view the incident as a serious matter which needed to be dealt with.
He said that on Jan. 20 of this year Burchell had asked an administrative employee of the county to fax a copy of a form to the state Department of Health and Human Services which Burchell himself had signed authorizing access for him to the department's rate-setting database.
Burchell had signed the request as not only as a Belknap County Commissioner, but also a second time as an administrator with authority to authorize access, and had provided his own private email address as the facility's contact email address.
The request was later denied by the Christine Ferwerda of the DHHS, who said that it needed explicit approval from the administrator of the Belknap Nursing Home. The county's HIPAA compliance officer, Patti Ricks, pointed out that the nursing home is required by law to protect the health care information of residents of the Belknap County Nursing Home to keep it from being used improperly, and that only the administrator of the nursing home has authority to grant access to the database. Ricks wrote that it was her determination that Burchell should not have access.
Taylor pointed out that Burchell had made the request for the form to be faxed to the DHHS at a meeting of the commission, but had never discussed it with the other commissioners.
"A reasonable and honest person would have explained at the meeting what he proposed to do and would have asked for board authorization for such action. Mr. Burchell clearly chose a path of deception, rather than one of transparency." He said that it was "conscious usurpation of board authority."
He said that Burchell knew he didn't have the authority to authorize personal access to the department's database yet still represented himself to the department through the form he filled out as having that authority.
Taylor said that Burchell's action violated two criminal code sections, both misdemeanors, for attempting to deceive a public servant and for attempting to commit the crime of unauthorized access.
Burchell did not deny filling out the form seeking access, but said that he had only done so in order to obtain information on how reimbursement rates for county homes are determined.
He explained that he had doubts over the statements made by Acting Nursing Home Administrator Bob Hemenway that the county was losing an estimated $185,420 a year in Medicaid income due to lack of adequate documentation of services provided for residents.
"I thought it was an incorrect assumption," said Burchell, who said that he had no intention of violating the privacy of any of the residents, but instead wanted to determine what factors played a role in the decrease in reimbursements from $161.33 a day last year to $154.46 on July 1 of this year.

City stymied on Weirs parking


LACONIA — "I don't know how we can satisfy anybody or everybody in this situation," said City Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), responding to a request from residents to prohibit on-street parking along Haven Avenue, one of a thicket of short, narrow streets north of Methodist Circle at The Weirs.

After hearing from residents speaking both for and against the request, the committee agreed to table it pending further study of parking in the neighborhood. Haven Avenue is one of four streets — Janes Avenue, Thompson Avenue and Morris Avenue are the others — running north and south within a quadrangle bounded on the north by Coolidge Avenue, which has been closed, on the east by Allen Avenue, on the south by Centenary Avenue and on the west by Fisk Avenue, a rutted, dirt track. All four streets, along with Allen Avenue and Fisk Avenue, run from Centenary Avenue and dead end at Coolidge Avenue, which parallels the waterfront.

"The whole road is turning into a parking lot," Cynthia Vera told the Government Operations and Ordinances Committee this week. She said that she has been corresponding with city officials for the past two years, stressing that her primary concern is ensuring access for emergency vehicles.

Anthony DiCalogero, a longtime resident who owns the properties at 14 and 16 Haven Avenue, said that the problems began some years ago when he Department of Public Works closed Coolidge Avenue, creating the dead end streets. He said that cars parked on Haven Avenue blocked either the street or his driveway, sometimes for more than an hour. At the same time, he said that because entering Haven Avenue had to turn around to leave the street, his car has been bumped. Along with prohibiting on-street parking, DiCalogero said Coolidge Avenue should be reopened to improve the flow of traffic. He suggested people renting properties in the neighborhood are the source of most of the problems.

Laurie Sanborn of 17 Haven Ave. flatly opposed restricting parking. She said that because her garage is too small for a car, she purchased the property on the understanding automobiles could be parked on the street. Without through-traffic, she said that although the street is narrow, just 16 feet wide, on-street parking "is not an issue." Without it, she continued, the properties on the street would lose value. She was echoed by Deborah Lumsden of 18 Haven Ave., who told the committee that there would be no further development on street.

Dianne Vercammen of 36 Centenary Ave. cautioned the committee "You're opening up a whole can of worms." She explained that prohibiting parking on one street in the neighborhood would add to the number of vehicles parked on nearby streets, which, like Haven Avenue, are short and narrow. City Manager Scott Myers likened the effect to squeezing one part of a balloon only to cause it to bulge somewhere else.

The committee appeared more inclined to grant a request to ban parking on both sides of Centenary Avenue. Andrew Giovanni, who lives across the street from the Akwa Marina at the north end of the street, said that before the marina was built there was no parking on either side of the street, but since then cars have parked on both sides of the street.

The Mailloux family, who own the marina, did not object to restoring the prohibition, but reminded the committee that the north end of Centenary Avenue serves as a loading zone for the marina. The committee was assured that stopping times would be kept to a minimum.

With little discussion, the committee recommended prohibiting on-street parking on Moulton Street, a dead-end street paralleling Union Avenue and the WOW Trail between Cantin Chevrolet and the conference center at Lake Opechee Inn and Spa. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal at its next regularly scheduled meeting.

Myers said Thursday that he met with Luke Powell, assistant director of Public Works, and would be offering recommendations to the committee.