Burchell's colleagues planning to oust him as chair

LACONIA — Heeding the soothsayer's warning to "beware the Ides of March," Richard Burchell took steps yesterday to thwart the intent of his fellow Belknap County commissioners — Hunter Taylor and Dave DeVoy — to oust him from the chairman's post in favor of DeVoy when the commission meets Monday morning.

After bickering throughout the morning, Burchell informed his colleagues by e-mail that "I will use the Sheriff's Office to clear the room if what you have contemplated is attempted."

In a letter sent to The Laconia Daily Sun yesterday, Taylor revealed that he would offer a motion to "reorganize" the commission and, if it carries, would nominate DeVoy to replace Burchell as chairman.

Taylor referred to the rift among the commissioners over the 2015 county budget and, noting that Burchell absented himself from the process and has criticized the position of the majority, wrote that "the commissioner who had been selected to chair the commission refused to be part of the team in addressing its first important responsibility." Moreover, he doubted that Burchell has "the temperament to lead the team through the differences of opinion that inevitably arise."

(Taylor's letter is published on page 6.)

When Burchell got wind of what was up he instructed county Administrative Assistant Angela Bovill to prepare an agenda, which made no mention of reorganizing the commission. He closed by asking her to "please see that there is a uniformed representative of the Sheriff's office at this meeting" and declared, "there will not be any additions to this agenda per order of the chair."

Shortly afterwards Taylor and DeVoy countermanded Burchell's instructions and directed Bovill to post an agenda on the county website, on which the first item of new business is "reorganization of the Belknap County Board of Commissioners".

Burchell said that he consulted with Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlon in Concord who informed him that "they have no statutory basis for doing this." Then he advised Taylor and DeVoy, "Please understand that the agenda will not be so loosely drawn as to allow for a reorganization of county officers. There is no statutory basis nor is there a basis in tradition," he continued, "for changing officers because you do not agree with a specific policy which may be advocated by an officer."

Taylor said he also spoke with Scanlon, who told him that he referred Burchell to the state statute reading, (RSA 28:1-b) "All rights, authority and powers of the county commissioners shall be exercised only by vote of a majority of the county commissioners." Dismissing Burchell's rendering of the law, Taylor remarked "how he got from there to where he is, I don't know."

Speaking to dissension among the commissioners, Taylor said that "temperament is a vital part of being a chairman and Mr. Burchell has not evidenced the sort of temperament one should bring to the chairmanship." He offered his refusal to participate with his fellow commissioners and county officials in a daylong meeting to address the budget as one example. Likewise, Taylor said when DeVoy explained that family issues have placed demands on his time and asked his colleagues to make allowances in scheduling meetings, Burchell was reluctant to accommodate him.

Finally, Taylor recalled a meeting at which he and Burchell had a difference of opinion. He said that Burchell got up and started for the door, then,  when asked, returned, but said, "move it on. You've got five minutes." Taylor said that he told Burchell "'you can't tell me how long I have to speak.'" He said Burchell replied, "I don't have to listen to you," to which Taylor responded "you sure don't". At that point, Taylor said, Burchell told DeVoy, "you're leading this county down the road to disaster," called him "Colonel Puffer", and left the room.

Taylor said he could find nothing that afforded special prerogatives to the chairman. "He is one of a team of three and should behave as a member of a team," he said.

Taylor said that apart from differences over the budget, Burchell is bent on imposing what he calls a "business model" of administration on the county by eliminating the positions of county administrator and finance director and requiring department heads to report directly to the commissioners. Noting that neighboring Carroll County has operated without a county administrator, Taylor said that he met with members of that commission, who told him that a recent study of their county found that its administration was "inefficient". As a result the Carroll County commissioners have included $105,000 in this year's budget to hire an administrator with a financial background. Yet Burchell, he said, has remained insistent.

"I've been fairly consistent," Burchell told The Daily Sun. "I'm just going to advocate what I believe in."

He repeated that there is "no statute, no precedent" for removing the chairman of the county commission, but added "if a judge so rules, I'll gladly step down."

Burchell remarked that a professor once told him "if you keep your sanity through the Ides of March, you're good for another year."

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Heroin overdose death suspected at Merrimac Street home in Laconia

LACONIA — Police are reporting another likely fatal heroin overdose that was reported early yesterday morning on Merrimac Street.

Capt. Matt Canfield said the victim was a 31-year-old male who he is not identifying because all of his family has yet to be informed.

Canfield said an autopsy and a preliminary toxicology screening are scheduled but the death has "all the indication of being a probable overdose".

He said there was some drug paraphernalia found found at the scene.

He said the overdose was reported to police at 3:17 a.m. by some of the victims friends or relatives who were not at Merrimac Street when they called.

The man's death is being actively investigated.

Police also responded to a non-fatal heroin overdose of a 27-year-old female who was staying at the Landmark Inn on Thursday.

Firefighters/EMTs were able to revive her with a dose of the opioid antidote Narcan.

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Laconia visits Newfound & Gilford hosts Somersworth as NHIAA girls' basketball tourney reaches quarterfinal round

LACONIA — The sixth-seeded Laconia girls basketball team squeaked out an NHIAA Division III Tournament second-round victory over 11th seed Berlin, 31-29, Thursday night. The Mountaineers failed to covert three free throws after a foul on the second three-point attempt in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to force overtime.

Sachem junior Kailey Nute scored a game high 12 points on the evening. Laconia's quarter-final round will be at (3) Newfound Saturday night at 7 p.m. The Bears won the regular season matchup, 45-34, back in December.

"It's nice to survive and move on," said head coach Jeff Greely. The Sachems amassed an 18-6 lead at halftime, holding the Mountaineers scoreless in the second quarter. "The second quarter is what won the game for us overall," added Greely.

Berlin's battle back began in the third when the Mountaineers went on a 9-0 run to close the gap to four points. The Sachems bounced back and held off Berlin by converting five of nine free throws late in the game.

In other tournament action, the second seeded Gilford Golden Eagles topped (15) Newport, 66-46. The quarter-final matchup will see (7) Somersworth at Gilford Saturday. The Hilltoppers downed Belmont, 39-36.

Gilford downed Somersworth, 67-31 in the regular season.

The loss ended Belmont's season. The Red Raiders finished the season with a 14-5 record.

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Sanbornton looks at expanding Selectboard from 3 to 5

SANBORNTON — Among the many things town voters will weigh in on at the March 11 Annual Town Meeting is whether or not to increase the size of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members.

The citizen-petitioned article enjoys support from a virtual "Who's Who" of the Sanbornton citizenry. with all three sitting selectmen, a vast majority of the Budget Committee and a department head or two signing on.

The petition was started by Craig Davis, who is running for the Budget Committee. It his first time seeking elected office, however he is a regular attendee at many town meetings and functions.

Davis said the conversation with some of his friends started when they learned that one of the complaints from all of the members of the Board of Selectman was that, in addition to attending one meeting a week, all of them have separate responsibilities to serve on other town committees as well as some county and regional boards.

"My big focus is we need to attract different people (to serve) and with the work load (per selectman), nobody but retired people can handle the work load," Davis said, saying he's like to see some younger working people apply to be selectmen, as well as serve on other boards.

Fire Chief Paul Dexter said he signed it because he was asked to and because he thought it was a subject that should be discussed by the general public. He sees negatives and positives to enlarging the board.

"We already have a horrible time getting people to volunteer on town boards," he said, noting there are always vacancies on the land-use boards and when the town needs a special committee, it's always the same people who are already involved who participate.

He said he was also concerned that it there were not enough people to run for the five separate seats then the board would have to appoint a member, which could lead to cronyism and a potential lack of diversity.

He said he understands the burden on selectmen and said one of his recommendations is to meet every other week or twice-monthly like many of the surrounding town's boards.

Dexter said the benefits are exactly as Davis described — the work load would be lighter per selectman with a five-member board.

Winnisquam Regional School District Budget Committee member Nina Gardner said her first reaction was to support a debate about it so she signed the petition.

She said reasons to support it are spreading the work load and eliminating the grumblings and innuendos that routinely occur in Sanbornton about unlawful meetings started by coincidence when two selectmen run into each other and converse. State law prohibits private conversations involving a majority of the members of a public board or commission.

On the other hand, Gardner is concerned that there are so many openings on so many boards that she fears there won't be enough interested people — something Gardner knows first hand because of her many "retirements" from the Winnisquam School Board and Budget Committee that end when she gets asked to serve again because of a lack of interest by others.

She noted that Sanbornton's three-person board works as does Tilton's five-person board. Gardner also noted that Bristol was considering going from five to three selectmen but said she's not sure of the reason behind it.

Budget Committee Chair Earl Leighton said he has mixed emotions about upping the number of selectmen.

"I can see the advantage of taking the burden off of three and how it may allow working people to serve," said Leighton.

But Leighton also echoed Dexter and Gardner when he said he is concerned about not having enough people volunteer.

Town Meeting convenes at 7 p.m. at the Sanbornton Central School.

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