New Belknap commissioners developing management organization plan

LACONIA — Belknap County's new commissioners, attempting to assert what they see as their major responsibilities as managers of county government, are looking for ways to reconcile their part-time status with the everyday needs of county department heads to make decisions on a daily basis.
When new commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) held their first meeting in early January they made a point of saying they didn't want to delegate their authority and wanted to deal directly with department heads. They said department heads would report directly to them rather than through the Belknap County administrator, signifying a major break with the policies followed by the previous commissioners, who had worked to streamline county government by consolidating authority over policy and day-to-day operations of the various county departments within the administration department.
The shift in county policies was discussed by commissioners, who in recent weeks have been joined by newly appointed commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton), when they met Friday at the Belknap County complex and looked for ways to increase departmental autonomy and develop a policy which would differentiate between actions which would require their approval and those which would require only reporting to them of actions already taken.
DeVoy said that while each of the county departments are unique, he would like to develop a uniform policy. But he wanted to make sure commissioners didn't surrender any of their powers. ''There are certain responsibilities which we can't give away and I don't want to see us give them away.''
Taylor said that he would like to see the county Administrator Debra Shackett look at what policies are and have the commissioners reach a consensus on appropriate autonomy for each department.
Commission Chairman Burchell said that is was important not to micro-manage and suggested e-mails as a way to maintain lines of communication.
Taylor said that it was important for the commissioners to be sensitive to the state's open meetings law, better known as Right-to-Know, and pointed out that private discussions between two of the members of the three-person board on policy violates the open meetings law.
He said that each member of the board should separately do a draft of the proposed policy and that ''come in and talk about them'' and hold an all-day meeting with department heads and elected officials in order to develop a policy.
Burchell said that he didn't see conversations between commissioners as a violation of RSA 91-A, the Right-to-Know law. ''We'll never be be to decide in advance on every single issue which could come up,'' he said.
County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen noted that under state statutes there are requirements for her office, including reporting to the county administrator, any litigation against the county.
She said she saw the attempt to develop a policy ''a worthwhile discussion'', adding ''the administration over the years has done a good job of bringing us all together'' and that the departments have developed good working relationships.
Commissioners also dealt with a number of other items.
Burchell said that a bid was being prepared for the county's health insurance program by a firm which is sensitive to the substantial refund coming to the county from its current insurance provider, which the county would forfeit if it switches firms.
Taylor and DeVoy noted that union negotiators representing county employees had objected to having a citizen representative, Roger Grey of Sanbornton, on the county's bargaining team.
Taylor said that the union had cited a state Public Employee Labor Relations Board regulation that those representing an employer in the negotiations must be affiliated with the employer.
Both DeVoy and Burchell said they wanted to continue with Grey on the bargaining team and Taylor said the commissioners would have to create some kind of status for Grey that would enable him to be affiliated with the county for the purpose of collective bargaining.

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Gilford man indicted for alleged rape of hotel guest

LACONIA — A Belknap County Grand Jury has indicted a Gilford man for four counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault (forcible rape), one count of burglary, one count of robbery, one count of false imprisonment, one count of criminal threatening, and one count of possession of a controlled drug.

Douglas Fisher, 54, of 15 Lake Street allegedly broke into the room of a female guest of the Margate Inn and Resort and forcibly raped her.

Police said they received a call from a woman in the early morning hours of May 7, 2014 and she reported the attack.
During the investigation, police collected evidence that included DNA from the victim. The DNA was identified as Fisher's based on a matching sample already entered into the National DNA (CODIS) database.
Fisher, whose known previous convictions are for two drunk driving offenses, is being held on $100,000 at the Belknap County House of Corrections.

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Cooking up fun at the Gilford Youth Center

By Rachel DiMaggio

GILFORD — Each Tuesday, talented young chefs meet to learn new cooking skills in the Kids' Cooking Class offered by the Gilford Youth Center. Children in grades K-4 whip up a new recipe each week. Previous treats include banana muffins and roast chicken.

Karla Cooper, who runs the program, teaches cooking skills that support school learning and have lifelong value. Subjects like math and science are taught alongside cooking and teamwork. The $80 registration fee includes four sessions. The class meets on Tuesday afternoons from 3-5 p.m. at the Gilford Community Church, where students have access to a spacious kitchen full of cooking equipment.
Cooper has experience teaching Lunch Bunch Fitness, dance, and Mommy and Me classes. Interest in the cooking class has grown thanks to Cooper's engaging teaching style and commitment to helping children master a variety of skills, says GYC Director Scott Hodsdon. The class is so popular that a second session has been planned for March.
Hodsdon described the recent push for more children's programs. "We're working directly with Parks and Recreation, offering programs such as Junior Picasso for young kids. It introduces them to art and painting and sculpting. We also have our Lunch Bunch fitness class that's based around healthy living, being fit, and being active."
The GYC has more exciting kids' programs in the works. Hodson says there are "some wonderful ideas, new — this was just one of them."

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Judge tells Tardif that City Council did not violate Right-to-Know

OSSIPEE — Former mayor Tom Tardif's petition, alleging that the City Council violated the state Right-to-Know law (RSA 91-A) on two occasions last October, when it discussed behind closed doors the possible purchase of the Belknap Mill and the course of unrelated, pending litigation, has been denied by Justice Charles Temple of Carroll County Superior Court.

Originally filed in Belknap County Superior Court, the case was transferred to Carroll County when Justice James D. O'Neill, III recused himself.

Tardif claimed that the council failed to follow proper procedures in entering nonpublic sessions on October 14 and October 27, entered both nonpublic sessions for purposes not authorized by the law and improperly responded to his lawful request for information. He asked the court to compel the council to disclose the minutes of both nonpublic sessions.

First, Tardif charged that on both occasions the council failed to take a roll call votes to enter the nonpublic sessions as the law requires. The minutes record which councilors were present and that a roll vote was taken, bit not the votes of individual councilors. the votes of the individual councilors.

Attorney Walter Mitchell, representing the council, explained that in the absence of the city clerk, the minutes of both meetings were transcribed from recordings by a member of her staff unfamiliar with the requirements of the Right-to-Know law, who neglected to record the votes of the individual councilors. Despite the shortcomings of the minutes, he held that the audio recording show that roll call votes were taken on each motion to enter nonpublic session and all carried unanimously. Justice Temple agreed that the council complied with the law.

The Right-to-Know law specifically authorizes the council to consider "the acquisition, sale or lease of real property " and "pending claims and litigation which has been threatened in writing or filed" in private. Tardif contended that the nonpublic session to consider an offer to purchase the Belknap Mill was not authorized because he believed the city would not be able to acquire it. In rejecting Tardif's allegations. Justice Temple noted that he conceded the council entered a nonpublic session for a legitimate purpose.

Finally, Tardif argued that when he requested minutes of the nonpublic sessions from the city clerk, the city manager responded, instead, in violation of the Right-to-Know law. The court ruled that the law simply requires the "public agency or body" to respond to such requests .

The city claimed Tardif's petition was "frivolous" and asked the court, in accordance with the Right-to-Know law, which authorizes the court to award fees to a public body "for having to defend against a lawsuit . . . when the court finds that the lawsuit is in bad faith, frivolous, unjust, vexatious, wanton, or oppressive," to award costs. The court denied the request, noting that Tardif "raised several colorable (plausible) claims."

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