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Pollak tells Rotarians 'model' jail building process needs to run its course

LACONIA — Describing meetings of the Belknap County Convention as "ugly events where nothing's getting done," David Pollak, the Democrat seeking to represent Laconia, New Hampton and Sanbornton on the Belknap County Commission, told the Laconia Rotary Club yesterday, "I want to bring civility, common sense and a sharp pencil to what appears to be a broken partisan process."

Pollak, who has lived in Laconia with his wife and four children for 10 years, is professor of psychology at Lakes Region Community College and a member of the adjunct faculty at Plymouth State University where he teaches constitutional law. He graduated from George Washington University, earned a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters degree at Antioch University of New England. Before turning to teaching he practiced law in Pennsylvania and managed construction projects in New York.

Speaking to the Rotarians, Pollak confined his remarks to the future of the county jail, beginning by noting that although he has represented and taught inmates "I didn't understand corrections systems." But, he said he did understand that the city is beset by heroin epidemic, which contributes to much of its crime, and as a father "I want to do something about that."

"When you lock them up and throw away the key," Pollak remarked, "you get better criminals." On the other hand, he continued evidence demonstrates that inmates enrolled in rehabilitative and educational programming are less likely to run afoul of the law down the road. Noting that he has visited jails in Sullivan and Grafton counties, he said that in Sullivan County programming has had a "significant impact on the rate of recidivism. If we intervene constructively, we can break the cycle for some of these people."

Likewise, Pollak suggested steps can be taken to manage the growth in the number of inmates. In particular, he suggested exploring ways to reduce the time inmates are held before their cases go to trial — in partnership with attorneys and judges. However, he cautioned against simply increasing the number of inmates monitored by electronic bracelets as David DeVoy, his Republican opponent, proposes. Additional personnel would be required to expand the program, he said. Not all inmates qualify and those that do must be employed, he added, rejecting the notion that a certain number of inmates could be expected to on bracelets at any one time. Furthermore, he noted that the population of the jail is not reduced by the number inmates on bracelets, who still require a bed.

In defense of the current Belknap County Commissioners, Pollak described the process they have followed in planning for the jail "a model of democratic process."
He said that the commission consulted with experts in correctional policy and educated themselves at a workshop then convened a committee, inviting public officials and local residents to participate. "You can sit on the sidelines and lob grenades," he said, "or you can roll up your sleeves and get involved."

Pollak stressed that the report of Ricci Greene Associates, with its conceptual plan for a new facility with a $42-million price tag, is "only the first step in a process. The same firm, he explained, prepared a conceptual plan for a new jail in Grafton County with a cost of $60million, but the facility was ultimately built at a cost of $30 million. He said that the Jail Planning Committee has shrunk the dimensions of the plan presented by Ricci Greene Associates by 20 percent and when schematic drawings are complete the cost can be reduced further.

Asked if he had a specific jail budget number in mind, Pollak flatly answered "no" after earlier conceding, "I don't know if $30 million is a reasonable number." He said that "we have to have conversations with stakeholders and it has to be something we can all afford." Like the current commissioners, he intends to sound officials across the county, particularly in Laconia where the budget is bound by a property tax cap.

"I'm out there talking to anybody I can shake out from under a rock," Pollak said when he was asked if he had spoken to Richard Grenier, a former Superintendent of the Department of Corrections who is now a selectman in Gilford.

Pollak and Devoy will square off in the general election on November 4.

Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 01:13

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State insisted Laconia accept early education grant

LACONIA — The School District has tapped veteran early-childhood education administrator Julie Sackett to coordinate the 4-year SAMHSA grant recently conferred on the district by the N.H. Department of Education.

Sackett's first day with the district was Tuesday.

The N.H. Department of Education was awarded an $8.6-million grant from the federally administered Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) program and three schools in New Hampshire, including Laconia, were specifically chosen.

About $550,000 annually over the next four years will come into the Laconia School District. Some of the money will be spent for contracted services with local social service agencies.

SAMHSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"They came to us several times," said Superintendent Terri Forsten last week, saying the DOE looked at a number of school districts and decided Laconia, Concord and Rochester could best benefit from the grant.

"They were insistent we get this," Forsten said.

A N.H. DOE PowerPoint presentation about the program that's posted online says the grant would go to states that had three school districts that qualified.

Those qualifications are based on demographics — Concord and Laconia have the 2nd and 3rd largest political refugee populations in the state according to DOE SAMHSA Administrator Mary Steady. Manchester, she said, has the largest refuge population.

Refugees were not the only criteria that the DOE used to decide which communities received the grant, said Forsten.

In addition, Laconia has a relatively high portion of its students who qualify for the federal "free and reduced-price" lunch program — a standard by which the federal government measures the relative wealth of a community.

According to statistics from the DOE, 57.21-percent of Laconia's students qualify for the lunch program, which is the highest among New Hampshire's cities with the exception of Franklin, that is 60.84-percent.

Other contributing factors to Laconia being solicited for grant participation by the state were its relatively low median household income, the number of people below the federal poverty line, gaps in early childhood education; gaps in promoting mental, emotional and behavioral health, gaps in connecting family, schools and communities, youth risk assessments; school suspension date and bullying and harassment data.

As for hiring an early childhood education coordinator, Forsten said that was not a specific condition of being award the grant, however she said she included it in her proposal because she wanted someone on staff who was already familiar with area social service and mental health agencies and how they interact with the School District.

She also said that the School District's ongoing relationship and access to social services and mental health services was one of the reasons the state felt Laconia was going to use the grant to achieve the stated goals of improving the emotional and social skills for students ages infant to 5 to prepare them for kindergarten.

Another goal of the SAMHSA grant is to substantially improve the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of young children and reduce the amount of violence and bullying within the School District.

According to its own documentation, SAMHSA's goal is to build a safe and supportive school and community by building partnerships among educational, behavioral health, and criminal justice systems.

The program aims to accomplish this by involving parents of children who are pre-school aged and who may be exposed at an early age to violence and or drug and alcohol abuse.

Areas of Sackett's focus will be promoting early social and emotional learning and development, promoting early social and emotional learning, connecting families with schools and curriculum, preventing behavioral health issues including drug and alcohol abuse, and creating safe and violence-free schools.

Sackett's specific goals are to ensure cross-agency and cross disciplines partnerships with local agencies like Genesis, the N.H. partnership for Public Health, the Boys and Girls Club, New Beginnings, and Horizons Behavioral Health.

In addition, Forsten said Sackett would be coordinating her efforts with the state Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), Juvenile Justice Systems, the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, the Office of Minority and Refugee Affairs, N.H. Parent and Family Organizations.

Forsten said the School District hasn't done a student Risk Behavioral Analysis in a few years and one of the goals for this four-year grant is for all students to take the test.

About 40 percent of the $550,000 available to Laconia each year will be spent on the grant administrator and the early childhood education position.

The balance, said Forsten will include subcontracting with Genesis Behavior Health for mental health services for some students, some parent training subcontract services with Lakes Region Community Services,  and some training classes for PBIS or a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program that teachers will take to help students behave in school.

Forsten said the school will hire a student assistant coordinator who will work with students primarily at the high school level with students with substance issues. She said the School District used to have this position but at some point they lost it.

She said this person works to connect individual students with support and substance abuse counseling.

There is also be a bullying component. Forsten said the federal government gives the district a "menu" of choices of programs and with Sackett's being on board now, she will evaluate which programs will do the most good for Laconia's students.

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:36

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'Most Exquisite' - Historic Moulton Opera House drape going out for restoration

LACONIA — The grand drape that hung in the Moulton Opera House for eight decades and lay hidden in a barn on Pleasant Street for another four will soon be restored and rigged to grace the Laconia Public Library.

Yesterday Christine Hadsel, executive director of Curtains Without Borders of Burlington, Vermont, and Robert Brier of Barre, Vermont, who together will restore and hang the curtain, came to the city to measure its dimensions and assess its condition in preparation for the project. Two years ago, when the grand drape was discovered, Hadsel, who has restored more than 250 painted curtains from opera houses, town halls and Grange halls in northern New England, called it "the most exquisite curtain I have ever seen."

Brenda Kean, executive director of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society who is managing the project, said that restoration work is expected to begin the week of October 20 and several volunteers are needed. No experience is necessary and volunteers will work under Hadsel's direction. Volunteers will be taken on a first-come, first-serve basis. Those interested in contributing should contact Kean at 527-1278 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The grand drape, consisting of eight panels, each 30 inches wide, of medium weight scenery muslim, measures 26 feet, 10 inches across and 20 feet high. Like many of its counterparts, it was painted with a scene mimicking a romantic work of art. Eugene Cramer of Columbia, South Carolina chose "Morning on the Nile," painted by a Belgian artist, Jacob Jacobs, in 1859. Cramer copied the painting, added a frame around it and purple drapes at the upper corners to complete curtain. Hasdel said that the scene, painted in 1886, was the first Egyptian motif she had ever seen and among the earliest painted curtains she had encountered.

Apart from some water damage Hasdel pronounced the curtain in very good condition. She said that the water damage could be overcome and with cleaning the vibrancy of the colors would return.

However, there is no space in the library high enough to display the entire curtain. After it is restored, two uppermost panels will be removed and stored. Brier, who will design and assemble the rigging to hang the curtain, said that it operated much like an inverted window blind, but inverted. The bottom of the curtain will be attached to a rigid aluminum tube. With a system, which Brier likened to a set of "blocks and tackles," the curtain will be rolled and raised into a valence.

The Moulton Opera House, built by banker, industrialist and entrepreneur John C. Moulton, opened in August 1887 on the second and third floors of the brick building that housed O'Shea's Department Store. By 1909,the manager of venue said that with changing tastes he would no longer book traveling theater companies but rent the venue for movies and vaudeville, which he called "the cheaper shows." The Colonial Theater, almost four times its size with 1,450 seats, opened in 1915 the fortunes of the opera house began to wane and by the early 1930s it went dark, becoming a store room for the department store.

In 1970, the building was razed in the course of the urban renewal project. According to Wayne Fletcher, Sam Dunn, the owner of Pheasant Ridge County Club, purchased the contents of the theater and hired Fletcher and others to collects remove them. In 2012, Fletcher told The Daily Sun when they lowered the grand drape, he told them, "I think this is going to be history. Let's roll it up and take care of it."

Fletcher arranged to store the curtain in the barn on Pleasant Street then owned by Frank Neal, a banker. The property changed hands several times and most recently purchased at a foreclosure auction by Don Houle, an acquaintance of Fletcher. Fletcher asked Houle to see if there was a large roll of fabric in the barn and Houle offered to donate the curtain to the Laconia Historical and Museum Society. The rest, as Fletcher foresaw, is history.

Kean secured a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and in partnership with the city and library has arranged for the restoration and display of the grand drape.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:33

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Belknap Commission to ask judge to reconsider his ruling

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners plan to file a motion for reconsideration of the court order issued last week by Belknap County Superior Justice James D. O'Neill III which granted a request by the Belknap County Convention for a preliminary injunction which prohibits the commission from spending more money from any line item in the county budget than the convention appropriated. It also prevents commissioners from transferring more than $300 from any line item without the express approval of the executive committee of the convention.
Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) made the announcement when questioned about what had taken place at a "non-meeting" the commissioners held with their attorney when they met yesterday at the Belknap County complex.
''We disagree with the decision and feel we have been following the law,'' said Thomas, who declined to elaborate further.
Thomas had told The Daily Sun on Tuesday that, from the commission's standpoint, the judge had not been looking at the ramifications of his decision.
In the 2014 budget the convention adopted in March, $2,594,925 was appropriated for health insurance, the same amount expended in 2013. However, the commission, without approaching the executive committee, has transferred sufficient funds from other line items to fund the employer's share of the annual premium increase and has authorized those payments for the first three quarters of the year.
The commission has maintained that paying the employer's share of the increased cost of health insurance is a contractual obligation under the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the unions representing county employees. Those contracts have expired and new agreements have not been ratified or funded.
In the interim the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) and New Hampshire Supreme Court have ruled that a public employer is required to maintain the "status quo" until a new agreement is ratified and funded. Furthermore, the court ruled that "that the health insurance benefits received by the bargaining unit members ... are conditions of employment" and the employer "must continue to provide these benefits during the status quo period regardless of the cost."
Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, insisted after Judge O'Neill's ruling that there are no current contracts and that convention met its obligation by budgeting the same amount in 2014 and as it did in 2013. During the budget deliberations by the convention the members went through the budget line by line and reduced the amount commissioners had included in their proposed budget to reflect what had been spent last year.
During the first three quarters of the year, the commission will have spent approximately $180,000 more on health insurance than the convention appropriated. One option would be to lay off a sufficient number of employees, whose remaining health insurance costs would match the overage. The effect would be to balance health insurance expenditures with what the convention appropriated while spending less than appropriated for wages and associated costs. The Daily Sun estimated that this option would require laying off about 30 employees.
Alternatively the commissioners could reduce the number of layoffs and request the executive committee to approve transferring the funds saved in wages to offset the overage in health insurance.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:19

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