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Court unequivocally sides with lawmakers in budget dispute wiht Belknap Commission

LACONIA — Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court yesterday granted the request of the Belknap County Convention for a preliminary injunction forbidding the Belknap County Commission from transferring funds of more $300 between line items in 2014 county budget without the written approval of the executive committee of the convention.

The ruling represents a unqualified victory for the convention in its dispute with the commission over their respective authority for the county budget, which has roiled the county government for the past two years.

Last month, the convention brought suit against the commission. Attorney David Horan, representing the convention, argued that state statutes authorize the convention to itemize appropriations "in detail" and to require its executive committee to approve any transfers. Furthermore, the convention resolved to require the commission to submit requests for transfers of more than $300 to the executive committee for its approval.

Turning to the 2014 budget process, Horan said that the convention voted not to fund the annual increase in the employer's contribution to the cost of health insurance, but instead to freeze appropriations for health insurance at 2013 levels. However, shortly after the convention adopted the budget, he explained that the commission shuffled monies from other line items within departmental budgets to restore $209,919 of funding for health insurance. Altogether the commission changed 132 line items, many of them by more than $300.

"The commission," Horan told the court "ignored the appropriations by the convention and this was all done without the approval of the executive committee."

In a brief filed in response on behalf of the commission, attorney Robert Desrosier countered that the convention had no authority to bring suit against any party, let alone the commission. Furthermore, he argued that although the convention voted to file suit with respect to the 2013 county budget, it did not reauthorize litigation by majority vote with respect to the 2014 county budget. Nor, Desosier claimed, did the convention satisfy the criteria required to warrant the injunction it requested. First, the convention cannot show that its suit is likely to succeed on the merits. Second, he argued that neither the convention nor the taxpayers would suffer "immediate and irreparable harm" if the commission spent some or all funds for health insurance, since it would not increase either expenditures or taxes. " Finally, Derosier said that the convention cannot show that the public interest would be adversely affected if the injunction were not granted.

O'Neill rejected each of the commission's arguments in turn. If county conventions had no authority to litigate, he held, "this would in effect render controversies over how county commissioners use budgeted money non-justiciable." In order to bring suit an individual taxpayer would have to show that his or her individual rights were infringed or impaired, which O'Neill considered near impossible in a case like this one. "Thus," he concluded, "unless county conventions have standing to sue, no judicial remedy would exist to redress the potential harms caused by such activity.

O'Neill also held there are no reasons to suppose that a majority vote of the convention is require to authorize it to file suit. State statutes, he noted, "reveal that majority votes are by no means the only way in which a county convention may act." While a majority vote may be one way of authorizing litigation, he held that it is not a requirement.

Finally O'Neill ruled that the convention was likely to prevail on the merits of the case and therefore, unless an injunction was granted the conduct of the commission would create "the prospect of immediate and irreparable harm to the taxpayers of Belknap County" and place "a substantial hardship" on the convention."

The convention contended that line items in the budget represent "appropriations"as defined by statute. The commission countered that "appropriations" refers to the allocation of funds to the various departments of county governments and it has authority to transfer funds between line items within this allocation so long as the total appropriated to each department remains unchanged.

The statute defines an appropriation as "an amount of money authorized for a specific purpose by the legislative body." O'Neill concluded "in this definition, the legislature made no distinction between money allocated to departments generally and to specific line-items within each department. Instead it defined appropriations broadly," he continued. "The definition on its face suggests that line-items fall under this provision."

Furthermore, O'Neill noted that the statute reads "appropriations by the county convention shall be itemized in detail" and found that the convention is not only permitted but required to itemize county budgets. Likewise, the convention is authorized to require the commission to seek the approval of the executive committee before transferring all or part of an appropriation. O'Neill found that if line items were not appropriations, the ability of the convention top exercise this authority would be hampered.

The commission argued that the public interest would be adversely affected if an injunction were granted, claiming if health insurance plans for county employees were not funded, collective bargaining agreements would have to renegotiated or employees would have to be laid off. In dismissing the argument, O'Neill wrote that "the primary interest the public has in how health benefits are funded is how tax revenues are being expended to that end" and held that the effect of an injunction on the public interest would be "at the very most neutral." Nor, the justice found, has the commission has demonstrated that the funding is insufficient and, if it is, has not requested the executive committee to approve a transfer of funds.

The commission also suggested that granting an injunction would involve the court in a political dispute between two branches of government. O'Neill disagreed, noting that the dispute hinged on the definition of "appropriation," which is a matter of statutory interpretation well within the authority of the court.

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 12:25

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General Anderson invigorated by member children at Boys & Girls Club she now leads

LACONIA — With a sparkle in her eye and smile on her lips, Pat Anderson, who is now serving as interim executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region, remarked "I'm having lots of fun."

A member of the board of directors, Anderson stepped into the shoes left by the departure of Cheryl Avery. Anderson that the board has begun contemplating the process for hiring a permanent successor, but has not set a timetable for beginning a search or making an appointment.

Anderson, who was born in Indiana, spent her teens in West Virginia and graduated from high school in North Carolina likes to say she's from Wisconsin. "My parents are from Wisconsin and I actually lived there," she said. "I think of myself as from the Midwest." After a year as a grade school teacher, Anderson went to nursing school and at 33 joined the United States Army, where she rose to the rank of brigadier general.

During the Gulf Wa of 1900-1991 in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait, she was chief nurse at the 410th Evacuation Hospital in Saudi Arabia during operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. A fan of "Mash," she confessed she found herself in the role of Hot Lips Houlihan and said that her experience enriched her appreciation of the popular television series, particularly the role of humor in very trying circumstances.

Now retired, Anderson and her husbands settled in Laconia in 2012 and she at once became engaged in the life of the community. She serves as president of the Laconia Rotary Club and, as a painter, is a member of the Lakes Region Art Association. Having served on the board of directors of Boys & Girls Club that served 1,700 children in North Carolina, she found the one located here a perfect fit. "Those who don't volunteer are really missing out," she said. "It keeps you alive and young."

Anderson dismissed any suggestion of being a caretaker, saying "we've got a big job to do." In particular, she has set herself the task of strengthening what she called the "infrastructure" of the organization by refining the policies and procedures. She said that the club is a relatively young organization and her intention is to have a sound administrative structure in place before the transition to new leadership. Likewise, she said she would be seeking to put the club on a sound financial footing, explaining that while the capital campaign has been successful the operating budget needs shoring up.

Anderson indicated that she does not intend to simply maintain existing activities and programs. "We'll do whatever we can," she remarked, hinting that the club may expand its offerings.

Despite her military experience, Anderson admitted that when it comes to managing the children she relies on her staff. "They are terrific," she said. "If I tried to keep order, I don't know that I could, but these kids are just wonderful with the children."

Asked if she will apply when the position of executive director is advertised, Anderson said "I don't know, but one never knows what the future may bring."

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 12:04

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Interesting Republican Primary race in House District 4; Fields joined onthe ballot by Brothers & Gallagher

SANBORNTON-TILTON — For the past two years Representative Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton) has been the bugbear of the Republican majority of the Belknap County Convention by repeatedly challenging the leadership, showing support for the Belknap Commission and often voting with the Democratic minority.

As a result Fields, who is seeking re-election to a 15th term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, finds himself facing two challengers in the Republican primary for the two seats in District 4 (Sanbornton and Tilton) — Richard Brothers and Brian Gallagher, both from Sanbornton.

Originally from Vermont, Fields enlisted in the United States Navy on graduating from high school in 1964 and served three tours of duty in Vietnam. He was first elected to the House in 1982 and represented Merrimack for 11 terms until 2004, when he moved to Sanbornton, where he was elected to the first of three terms in 2008. Fields has served on four different House committees, most recently the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. He is especially proud never to have missed a vote, in either a committee or the House, in the 28 years he has served.

Fields believes that low spending ensures low taxes and opposes a sales or income tax. He voted against raising the gas tax as well as increasing the minimum wage while voting in favor of right-to-work legislation. He also opposed the bipartisan plan to use federal funds to provide health insurance to some 50,000 residents without it. Although he supports the 2nd Amendment, he riled gun owners by voting not to permit firearms in the Statehouse.

"I'm not a puppet," declared Fields, who often openly and passionately questioned the decisions of Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), the chair of the county convention who several times ruled him out of order and and once snapped "Dennis, control yourself." In particular, Fields was troubled by what he considered efforts by Worsman to exclude the members and commissioners from the budget process. "I don't belong to any particular group except the Republican Party," Fields said. "I just want to represent the people." He has been endorsed by State Employees Association.

Brothers, who came to New Hampshire from Massachusetts 25 years ago, is a registered nurse by training and profession, with 16 years of experience in politics and government. He served one term in the House from 1998 to 2000, representing Thornton, Campton, Waterville Valley and Holderness. He advised Governor Craig Benson on employment opportunities for those with disabilities and was appointed Commissioner of Employment Security in 2004 and served until 2009.

Brothers recalled that when he was in the House, funding public schools was the overriding issue and his district was evenly divided between donor and receiver towns. "I learned about compromise," he remarked. "Compromise is not a dirty word. You have to be willing to compromise. I'm running to represent Sanbornton and Tilton," he continued, "not some partisan ideology."

"I didn't think I be doing this again," Brothers said, explaining that "I was motivated more by what is going on in the county. Noting that convention has brought suit against the commission over the county budget, he said "it never should have gotten to this. The convention and commission must work together."

Likewise, Brothers called for cooperation in addressing the issues at the county jail. "I'm fiscally conservative," he said, "but I understand we have spend a little up front to save a lot of money at the back end." In particular, he expressed concern at the incidence of substance abuse, especially heroin, which by contributing to most crimes, drives the increase in the number of inmates. "I'm a strong supporter of programming to curb drug abuse, which will reduce the jail population," he said.

Brothers anticipated the state budget would pose a challenge. He said that he was concerned that state has been shifting costs, like retirement contributions, and withholding funds, like the municipal share of rooms and meals tax revenue and highway block grants, to cities and towns as well as placing a heavy tax burden on businesses. "We can't keep doing this," he said, "but at the same time we need to fund essential programs and services."

Like Brothers, Gallagher is a veteran of state government, although this is his first bid for elective office. Now retired, he spent more than three decades in public finance, including 12 years in the state budget office and eight at the administrative office of the court system, and currently serves on the budget committee of the Winnisquam Regional School District.

Gallagher, who has served on the budget committee, planning board, capital improvements committee in Sanbornton as well as a library trustee and trustee of the trust funds, said he was approached by people of both parties and from both towns about running for office and in turn sounded his neighbors about the prospect. "I was encouraged by the response," he said.

While acknowledging what he called "a lot of bad energy" in county government, Gallagher said he gave equal weight to a representative's responsibilities in Concord. "Both the state and the county are important pieces," he said. Each, he stressed, required "fiscal integrity and constitutionally limited government." Gallagher is opposed to a sales or income tax and stressed that the purposes government serves must be limited. "We can't just keep growing the system," he said. For example, he called the plan to provide health insurance to another 50,000 individuals "not a good idea," since when the federal government no longer funds the program "there is no guarantee the state will be able to pay for it. This is another symptomatic issue of the expansion of government."

Gallagher also opposes the introduction of casino gambling, which he said offers only "an unpredictable revenue source" as the experience of New Jersey has indicated. Furthermore, he said that "the unintended social consequences of expanded gambling are not where New Hampshire wants to be." Instead, Gallagher said that lowering taxes and easing regulation on business would generate economic growth and with it sufficient revenue to support "reasonable levels of spending."

Republican voters in Sanbornton and Tilton must choose two from among three experienced candidates in the primary on Tuesday, September 9. The winners will face Democrats Ian Raymond of Sanbornton, an incumbent seeking his second term, and Jane Alden of Tilton in the general election on Tuesday, November 4.

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 01:12

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Meredith man indicted on sex with child charge

MEREDITH — A former Fortier Road man was indicted yesterday by a Belknap County grand jury for allegedly engaging in various sex acts with a girl who is less than 13 and not his wife.

Andre J. Duquette, 38, is charged with two counts of felony pattern aggravated felonious sexual assault for allegedly touching and assaulting the girl on more than one occasion over a period of time from December of 2012 to June 15, 2014.

Duquette faces an additional rape charge for allegedly laying on top of her while she was unclad and one for a single count of sexual penetration.

At press time, not further information was available.

Last Updated on Friday, 29 August 2014 12:58

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