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Community salutes 2 Recovery Court program graduates

LACONIA — One year ago, neither Nicole Center or Shane Mitza thought they'd be the guests of honor in a circuit court room, although both had seen their fair share of the insides of them.

Both, for different reasons, were facing felony convictions and well on their way to jail but for the intervention of Recovery Court — an all volunteer program in Belknap County that allows people who are facing felony charges and who admit that alcohol and drugs are the catalysts for their behavior to enter a comprehensive recovery program in lieu of jail.

"It's been a tough year," said Center yesterday at a well attended Recovery Court graduation ceremony in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, who said she was grateful she got arrested two years ago. "It's weird to say that but my life has changed."

Describing herself as "eternally grateful," Center not only attended 51 counseling sessions, 30 group sessions, and a special weekly counseling session, she did community service and worked a full-time job where she earned two promotions. She is also a single parent.

Shane Mitza, said Horizons Behavioral Health Coordinator Jacqui Abikoff, came into the program with sole goal of getting out and avoiding jail.

"He thought he could beat the system but the system beat him," Abikoff said while Mitza laughed at her observation.

Mitza said he'd been dealing with Judge Jim Carroll for the last 20 years but now "I can face Judge Carroll with pride, not disdain or worry."

"My son told me he thought I'd be dead by now," Mitza said. "Those words really meant something."

He told the crowd of fellow recovery members, dignitaries from the state, county and local government including Sen. Jeanie Forrester and Joe Harding, the director of the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, that once he entered recovery all of his "so-called" friends were gone but now he has new and better friends.

He especially wanted to thank his wife for sticking with him through the lowest points in his life, his father and his children.

Mitza, who did his community service working in maintenance and landscaping at the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, caught the attention of one of the security officers who gave him a job with his landscaping company.

He said he wanted to thank him and a second friend who also stood by him giving him rides, and occasionally money, to see him and his family through some rough times.

He said the entire recovery court team "helped him become the person he always wanted to be."

This is the second year of Recovery Court, which is called Drug Court in the other nine New Hampshire counties. Judge Carroll wanted his court to focus on recovery and thought that's what he would call it. It is the only "drug" court in the state without any public funding.

Carroll, who was overwhelmed with emotion during the graduation ceremony, said Mitza and Center have been stellar during their year with him. He said he saw Mitza at Mitza's son's high school graduation where he said Mitza told him that in his former life he probably wouldn't have remembered it.

Carroll said that not only did Center and Mitza go through recovery but their families and their community went through it with them and had their backs during it.

Keynote speaker Joe Harding, who is also the director of the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery, told the audience that one of his goals is preventing addiction problems before they begin.

He said prevention starts with doctors and physicians who can get to people before they become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Acknowledging he began recovery 26 years ago, he said he may have once been a candidate for a Recovery Court. He said the cycle begins when people become disconnected, more distant and more likely to use drugs and alcohol.

"Desperate people do desperate things and they end up in our judicial system," he said.

He said Abikoff's earlier plea for money from the federal and/or state government would probably fall on deaf ears.

Noting all of the community leaders who came to court to support Mitza and Center, he said the local community needs to take this program, raise the issues of drug and alcohol abuse and kept them in the forefront.

Judge Carroll said we all live one day at a time. Paraphrasing an article he said he had read over the weekend, Carroll noted that we all live "one day at a time."

He said yesterday is gone forever and nobody knows what tomorrow will bring so today is all we have — but today can be life-changing.

Recognition also went to Judge Williard "Bud" Martin who, through the Annette P. Schmitt Trust Fund made some money available to Horizons Counseling Center to keep the treatment portion of the program going.

He also thanked Harding who was able to defer some of the costs of the Nathan Brody Program to make the program affordable and accessible for those who need it.

Abikoff announced that Mitza and Center both entered the program on the same date and both have agreed to stay on a mentors for those who come after.

Recovery Court meets weekly at noon and a made possible through the private efforts and time of Judge Carroll, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, Restorative Justice Program Director Brian Loanes, Laconia City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, the Public Defenders Office headed by lead attorney Jesse Friedman, Department of Corrections Superintendent Daniel Ward, the N.H. Department of Probation and Parole whose local office is headed by Serene Eastman, and Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center in Gilford.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 12:19

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Gilmanton selectman guilty of forging vehicle inspection sticker

GILMANTON — Selectman Donald Guarino pleaded guilty in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division last month to a violation level charge of forging a vehicle inspection sticker.

When reached by The Daily Sun yesterday, Guarino said, "I made a mistake. I pleaded guilty and I paid my fine."

According to paperwork filed with the court, Guarino was driving a gray pickup on July 24, 2014 at 12:54 p.m. and failed to stop or yield on Route 11 (Main Street) in Alton.

He was stopped by a N.H. State Police Officer who noticed an inspection sticker irregularity. Guarino was initially charged with a Class B misdemeanor and released on personal recognizance bail.

On December 4, 2014, Guarino pleaded guilty to a violation level offense of forging an inspection sticker as well as the failure to yield or stop traffic offense.

He was fined $300 with $100 suspended pending one year of good behavior for the inspection sticker and $100 — all suspended — for the failure to yield or stop violation.

His fines were paid in full on that day.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 11:53

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New era in county government starts today with commissioners staking out ambitious agenda

LACONIA — New Belknap County Commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) were sworn in yesterday morning at the Belknap County Courthouse and have released an ambitious agenda for their first meeting at 9 a.m. today at the Belknap County Complex.

The third seat on the commission is vacant following the resignation of Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), who had two years remaining on his term but said he could not work with the new commissioners.
The agenda reflects the new commissioners' expressed intentions to overturn many of the policies and actions taken by the outgoing commissioners and to bring an end to the legal battles over line item budget authority between the commission and the state lawmakers who comprise the county convention.
The agenda calls for the reinstatement of Mathew Logue as administrator of the Belknap County Nursing Home and the withdrawal of a legal appeal filed by the outgoing commissioners with the New Hampshire Supreme Court of the county convention's Personnel Committee earlier decision to reinstate Logue after he was fired in late August.
It also calls for the law firm of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella, which represented the commission in its legal battle with the county convention over line item budget authority, to file a consent decree with Belknap County Superior Court which concurs with the decision by Judge James O'Neil III to issue a temporary injunction which prevented commissioners from transferring more than $300 between budget line items without approval of the convention's Executive Committee.

The former commissioners had been preparing to have the firm argue the case on its merits in February in Belknap County Superior Court.
The new commissioners have also asked that budget transfer requests which will be presented to the county's Executive Committee next Monday include $5,200 to pay legal fees incurred by former Belknap County Register of Deeds Barbara Luther in 2011 when she was sued by the commission in an effort to make her comply with recommendations made by an auditing firm hired by the county. In 2013 the county convention appropriated $5,200 to pay Luther's fees but the former commissioners refused to authorize payment.
Other transfer requests listed on the agenda include $260 for filing Superior Court cases on behalf of the convention as well as requests from former convention chairperson Colette Worsman and former vice chairman Bob Greemore, both of Meredith, to be paid for two Personnel Committee meetings and from Lakes Region Public Access TV to be paid for recording a Personnel Committee meeting.
The agenda makes no mention of other transfer requests but there is one major item still pending, a request for the transfer of $33,000 to pay the county's unpaid legal bills, which as of December 17 totaled $31,673. The Executive Committee has twice refused to approve transfers to pay the bills, which include bills from the Upton and Hatfield law firm which was hired by the Personnel Committee, as well as the law firms representing the commissioners.
Another agenda item calls for a strategy for jail improvements and hiring a consultant to assist the commissioners and the creation of full-time position within the Department of Corrections which would be responsible for the development and implementation of programs and for making program rooms in the so-called executive wing of the county complex available to the Department of Corrections, an approach favored by Commissioner DeVoy, who has called for converting that wing into housing for female prisoners.
The new commissioners also plan to issue a series of statements on the role of the county commissioners, the structure of county government and on public relations on county matters, the county bidding process and on copying fees charged by the county as well as budgetary philosophy and on the policy of spreading the cost of executive functions across county departments.
Commissioners plan to appoint a temporary legal counsel and have scheduled a non-public meeting to discuss a personnel matter.
DeVoy defeated Dave Pollack (D-Laconia) for the commission seat held by Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who did not seek re-election, while Burchell won election without a contest after defeating incumbent Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) in the September Republican primary.
The convention is expected to name a new commissioner to replace Nedeau, who must be from one of the towns of Meredith, Center Harbor, Gilford or Alton, sometime later this month.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) has said that the convention will advertise for applicants for the position and hold public interviews with potential candidates before making a decision.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 11:44

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State's new Smarter Balanced test may give way to SAT for 11th graders after just a year

LACONIA — The state's new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests that Laconia High School students will be taking for the first time this spring may be replaced next year by redesigned SAT tests according to Laconia Superintendent of Schools Terry Forsten.
She told members of the School Board last night that many educators across the state are looking at making the change next year and reverting to the SAT, which is coming out with a redesigned format which will stress college and career ready skills, real world problem solving and evidence based reading, writing and math.
''We may be able to use the SAT if the state gets a waiver (from federal requirements),'' said Forsten, who added that she will be watching closely the SAT results from the Londonderry and Alton school districts, which will, be pioneers in taking those tests this year.
She said that there are significant challenges faced in engaging high school students in standardized state tests that ''don't hold any weight with them.'' She said that the SATs, which for decades have been used to assess a student's readiness for college, provide more of a built-in incentive for students and may be a better way of engaging their interest,
''A lot of schools are saying let's go with the SAT,'' said Forsten.
School board members, many of whom expressed concern over how well students would adapt to the new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests when presented with a preview of a fourth grade Math test last year, appeared generally supportive of the proposed switch.
Those tests will be taken this spring by students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 in Laconia.
Forsten said that the science testing will still be conducted using the old NECAP exam for at least the next two years.
Switching subjects, Forsten said that new opportunities may soon be available for Laconia High School students to earn associate degrees at Lakes Region Community College while still in high school.
She said that she has had preliminary discussions with LRCC President Scott Kalicki about such a program which would help make college more attainable for many students who would be able to take college courses at reduced rates and would be especially helpful for prospective nursing students, who could earn credits which would apply to nursing programs offered at LRCC and the University of New Hampshire.
The school board voted to adopt a 2015-16 school calendar which will see schools in the Laconia hold their first day of classes on August 31, several days later than the opening day of school in the current school year.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 02:13

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