LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission moved a step nearer taking their differences to court after officials of the two bodies remained at loggerheads following a private meeting in the presence of their attorneys last Friday.
"It is sad and unfortunate we found no common ground," Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, wrote in an e-mail to her 17 colleagues on Sunday afternoon. "So now our next step is to move forward to let the courts decide."
Worsman, along with Representatives Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee of the convention and Jane Cormier (R-Alton), clerk of the convention, met with Commissioner John Thomas (R-Belmont), chairman of the commission, County Administrator Debra Shackett and County Finance Director Glen Waring. Attorneys David Horan, representing the convention, and Sharon Somers and Robert Derosier, representing the commission, were also present.
The purpose of the meeting, Worsman explained in her e-mail, was "to see if we could find some common ground regarding the budget, spending and if executive approval is or is not necessary for the 90+ fund transfers that have been made including now in excess of $25,000 out of the contingency fund."
Throughout the 2013 budget process the Republican majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.
With equal resolve the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in 13 categories accord with the "Statement of County Appropriations and Revenue as Voted," or MS-42 form, submitted to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations of the particular categories.
"The commissioners position," Worsman told members of the convention after the meeting, "is that they can spend money any way they so long as they don't exceed the bottom line. This obviously clashes with the many votes taken by the convention that will heavily affect the 12014 budget."
Last week's meeting stemmed from correspondence that began in June when Horan wrote to Thomas informing him that the commission had changed the amounts the convention budgeted in 91 separate line items and added dollar amounts to lines the convention left blank without seeking the approval of either the convention or its Executive Committee. He asked that the commission "immediately cease spending money from budget lines where zero money was appropriated, comply with the budget adopted by the convention and submit written requests to the Executive Committee for all transfers. He noted that the Executive Committee was meeting on June 24 and asked the commissioners to reply before the meeting.
Nearly a month later, Somers replied on behalf of the commission and refused to yeild an inch. "Having reviewed your points," she began, "I believe and have advised the commission that your conclusions are not supported by New Hampshire law and that . . . the commissioners have acted correctly, prudently and legally." Somers closed by remarking that commissioners wish "to move past this current impasse" and proposed that the chairman, vice-chairman and clerk of the convention, together with one of its five Democratic members, meet with Shackett and Waring.
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) was troubled by news of the meeting. "The convention voted to hire an attorney and vote to authorize Colette (Worsman) to be the contact person," he told The Daily Sun. "But, we never voted to authorize her to hold private meetings. What upset me the most," he continued, "was that we weren't told about the meeting until after the fact."
Huot said that he was "disappointed" that Worsman chose Tilton and Cormier to represent the convention without considering any other Republicans and "shut the Democrats out of the governing process altogether." He said that he believes neither the convention nor the commission is "100-percent right" and suggested his perspective should be represented.
Worsman told The Daily Sun that those who attended the meeting on Friday were carefully chosen to ensure a private meeting that did not contravene the "Right-to-Know" law. She said that she invited Tllton because he chairs the Executive Committee, which oversees the administration of the budget, and Cormier, who as clerk could take minutes if necessary.
"I can't help the fact that there are 13 Republicans and five Democrats on the delegation," Worsman said. "I can't change the facts."
Responding to misgivings expressed by Huot and Rep. Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) in an e-mail chain, Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) wrote, "Republicans do not get to whine in Concord when things do not go their way which is virtually always. What gives anyone the right to complain about the very open process which has been used in the county delegation?" To Huot he wrote, "Get a subpoena."
Worsman said that she was concerned that Huot provided her e-mail to members of the convention to the press, claiming that because it was copied to Horan it was a protected communication between client and attorney.
Although Worsman indicated in her e-mail that the convention would file suit, she declined to comment to the newspaper what steps the convention would take next. Instead, she said that the convention has taken no decisions and will be consulting with its legal counsel. "This is tremendously unfortunate," she said. "It saddens me that we need to protect the taxpayers of Belknap County."
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 10:49
MOULTONBOROUGH — Josh Bartlett, who was asked by the Board of the Selectmen to resign from the Planning Board to spare himself public proceedings to remove him for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office," is not alone. Judy Ryerson yesterday confirmed that Town Administrator Carter Terenzini presented her with the same offer last week.
When the selectmen met last week, Bartlett's wife Diane, reading from the prepared statement, disclosed that on July 25 he was summoned to a private meeting with Terenzini and Peter Minkow, town counsel, who informed him that the selectmen, meeting in a non-public session, voted to request his resignation. She said that her husband was told to resign his elected position by the close of business on Monday, July 29.
Ryerson, also elected, said that that she missed the meeting on July 25, but on August 1 was told by Terenzini that the Selectboard voted to request her resignation.
Both Bartlett and Ryerson have insisted they have no intention of tendering their resignations. They claim that neither Terenzini nor the selectmen have explained the circumstances and conduct that led the board to vote to request their resignations. Nor has either received a formal statement detailing the nature of the charges against them.
However, both acknowledge that Terenzini indicated that the proceedings arose from their conduct during the Planning Board's deliberation of a request for a conditional use permit (CUP) by Bear's Nest Trail, LLC. Bartlett and Ryerson said that Terenzini told them that "outside people" had questioned their behavior, but refused to identify the source of the complaints. "We cannot find out who is making these accusations," Bartlett said.
Bear's Nest Trail, LLC constructed a 900-square foot lookout tower, with an average height of 27 feet, around 1,200 feet up the east flank of Red Hill without obtaining the necessary permits from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) and Planning Board.
Reluctant to remove the structure, the property owner approached the ZBA and the Planning Board for approvals after the fact. In June, the ZBA granted a variance from the ordinance prohibiting development on slopes in excess of 25-percent and referred the matter to the Planning Board, which addressed the request for the CUP on June 26 and again on on July 10.
In order to grant the CUP, the board was required to find that the project satisfied 11 criteria and performance standards prescribed by the zoning ordinance. When, after one public hearing and a site visit, the board met on July 10 two of these proved especially controversial: one, requiring the project be consistent with "the spirit and intent of the ordinance" and another requiring that there be no "practicable alternatives" to the project and that all measures have been taken to minimize its impact."
The minutes record that when the board was "polled" on the 11 criteria and standards, it deadlocked three-to-three on the two issues, with Bartlett abstaining on both and Ryerson voting "no" on both.
According to the minutes, Bartlett said that he was "furious that this thing went ahead without a permit." He said that he abstained because he did not believe the two criteria were met. However, he also explained that "despite the fact that we want to pretend that this thing has not been built, the alternative really is to deny it and the effect of that would be to either require it to be moved or taken down or some other, or maybe we go to court for six months or a year. None of which," he was reported to say, "are going to do anybody a lot of good."
Although Bartlett conceded the board would be sending "a very bad message," he concluded that "it is the best interest of the town and the towns people" to grant the CUP and offered a motion to approve the request.
At that point, several members noted that because board split on the two criteria, it had no choice but to deny the CUP. Paul Punturieri then proposed amending the motion to approve the CUP, which would restrict cutting and require re-vegetation of the site.
Tom Howard, the chair of the board who had recused himself from discussion of the merits of the case, raised a point of order, noting that "a tie vote is a failure on the motion," and cautioning that "to take this further before definitively making that point . . . is critical." He suggested that were the board to vote yes after first voting no, its decision could be open to appeal.
Bartlett countered that the board was polled on the 11 criteria and standards, but did not "vote". After much discussion, the minutes record that Ryerson, who originally was polled as a "no" asked if she could change her vote to "yes", noting that she had not voted on a motion, but been polled.
After adopting Punturieri's amendment, the motion to grant the CUP carried by a vote of five-to-two, with Punturieri and Peter Jensen dissenting. Both Bartlett and Ryerson voted with the majority alongside Russ Wakefield, the selectmen's representative, Bob Goffredo and Keith Nelson.
According to statute (RSA 673:13) the selectmen may remove elected members of local land use boards only for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office" and then only after a public hearing. The Selectboard has yet to schedule a public hearing.
"I'm heartsick over this whole thing," said Bartlett, who has retained an attorney.
"I'm absolutely stunned," echoed Ryerson. "Changing your mind is not against the law."
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 02:41
GILMANTON — Members of the town's Planning Board were not officially informed the Selectboard intended to ask their chairman, John Funk, to step down until moments before it happened on June 13. An item had been placed on the agenda referring to a "letter from the selectmen" but no details were provided when the customary pre-meeting packet was e-mailed to board members on June 10, nor when they sat down to do business three days later.
Planning Administrator Desiree Tumas told The Daily Sun that copies of the letter requesting Funk's resignation were not included in the pre-meeting packet she sent out because she was told by new Town Administrator Arthur Capello to keep them to herself until the board reached the pertinent item on the agenda on the 13th.
Capello, who had only been on the job for a couple of weeks at the time, told The Daily Sun the letter wasn't distributed beforehand because "if something is controversial it's passed out the night of the meeting."
Funk reacted to the request by polling the members of the board for their opinion on the matter and when a 4-2 majority, including Selectboard Chairman Ralph Lavin, agreed they wanted him to relinquish the gavel because of they way he had reacted to the Police Department's investigation of a property dispute, he resigned from the board itself. No vote was actually taken.
Board member Laurie Sanborn did not attend the meeting and was replaced for the evening by alternate member Kevin Farquharson. Sanborn told The Daily Sun she had a family commitment to keep that night but she would have attended had she known what the selectmen were up to.
Farquharson was one the four people who supported Frunk's removal. The others were Lavin, Wayne Ogni and Roy Buttrick. Marty Martindale and John Weston wanted Funk to remain as chair.
For his part, Selectman Brett Currier told The Daily Sun it should not have come as any surprise that he wanted Funk and some other veteran members off the Planning Board because he said as much when he successfully ran for office in 2012.
Funk said he actually learned of the effort to remove him in a phone call from the third selectman, Don Guarino, that was placed about an hour before the June 13 meeting began. Guarino is the Selectboard's normal representative on the Planning Board but, according to Funk, he revealed that Lavin would be taking his place that night and the letter mentioned on the agenda called for his resignation as chairman.
Guarino, on the other hand, told The Daily Sun he "didn't think it (the Selectboard's letter) was going to be a subject at the (June 13) meeting." And, he said he did not know Lavin was going to make a motion to remove Funk a chairman.
Guarino also disclosed that the letter in question derived from a nonpublic Selectboard meeting a month earlier and he was charged with bringing it with him to the Planning Board's May meeting. But after a discussion centered around Funk's alleged maligning of the reputation of the Police Department, he decided the matter had been thoroughly vetted and that was enough.
Guarino kept the letter in his pocket that night and only distributed a couple of related legal opinions— one from Town Attorney Walter Mitchell and one from County Attorney Melissa Gulbrandsen — that agreed that the Planning Board had exceeded its authority by including a property rights paragraph that rests at the heart of the police investigation controversy in a letter it sent to construction contractor Ryan Benson back in September 2012.
He also distributed a letter Police Chief Joe Collins sent to the Selectboard in April in which the chief voiced his strong opinion that, "Mr. Funk clearly cannot continue as chairman of the Planning Board."
When the two other selectmen, Lavin and Currier, learned that Guarino had not presented the letter asking for Funk's resignation at the May Planning Board meeting, they pressed forward.
The controversial Planning Board letter — drafted by Tumas and approved by then Chairman Nancy Girard — informed Benson he no longer had a town permit to run a commercial enterprise on a residential lot he had been renting. Further, the offending paragraph stated that if he did not remove his personal property from the lot within a coupe of weeks, ownership of that property would pass to his landlord.
Sometime after the first of the year, the land owner used a copy of the letter to Benson as justification for having the contractor's property removed by a third party. Police got involved because Benson then reported that his belongings had been stolen.
The theft was investigated as a criminal matter by Sgt. Matt Currier, who, until he began looking into the matter, had no idea what was happening between, Benson, his landlord and the Planning Department.
The police investigation, with advice from Mitchell and Gulbrandsen, concluded the Planning Board had overstepped its bounds by inserting itself into the personal property ownership arena. And then Chief Collins became agitated when Funk came to the defense of the appropriateness of the letter to Benson through a series of e-mails that apparently enjoyed wide circulation.
Ironically, Funk had nothing to do with the original drafting of the letter, but said he was just defending the reputation of his board.
Chief Collin's April letter to selectmen stated, "He (Funk) continues disparage the Police Department and belittle the officers of the department, including the chief. I do not believe he will treat citizens fairly because once he sets his opine on issues he won't listen to reason. . . "
The chief further stated his opinion that Funk, himself an attorney, should have agreed with the opinions of Mitchell and Gulbrandsen and admitted the Planning Board had made a mistake.
Funk said lawyers disagree on lots of interpretations of law and that's why judges have the final say.
Funk also said he believes a lot of the controversy can be traced to Selectman Currier, who is Sgt. Currier's father.
Brett Currier told The Daily Sun that had he been a selectmen at the time of Funk's most recent re-appointment, he wouldn't have voted to re-seat him.
"I said it when I was running," he emphasized, adding that he has nothing personal against Funk and appreciates and thanks him for his service to the town for the last 15 years. He said the reason he didn't support Funk as chairman was because other people with different ideas wanted to serve on the Planning Board and previous Selectboards had continued to reappoint the same people, year after year.
Funk, as the longest serving member, became chairman earlier this year when selectmen refused to reappoint Girard to another term.
As to the discussion that started the ball rolling toward the selectmen's request for Funk's gavel, Brett Currier said Girard and Tumas came to a nonpublic session of the board to complain about the way police, and specifically his son, were investigating the reported theft of Benson's property. Currier recused himself from the discussion and said he offered to leave the room as well but others present told him he didn't have to.
Currier said he subsequently signed the letter requesting Funk step down because the situation had grown to involve the entire Police Department and its relationship to some members of the Planning Board and didn't necessarily revolve around his son.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 02:21
BELMONT — Winnisquam Marine has sent a letter to selectmen expressing an interest in buying the former Winnisquam Fire Station.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told selectmen last night she and the town counsel had gotten the letter earlier in the day and noted the town had initially offered the nearby business an opportunity to bid on it.
"It's our right to choose or refuse," said Beaudin.
No dollar figure was discussed last night. Beaudin said the communication was not a bid but an indication that the owners of the marina may be interested in purchasing the property from the town.
The property is on Sunset Drive and is directly opposite the marina. It is landlocked.
The now volunteer Winnisquam Fire Company was disbanded in 2006 and 2007 and, despite occasional but regular interest from residents of the Lochmere section of Tilton and the lakefront area of Sanbornton, the Belmont selectmen have said they have no interest in reusing the property as a fire station.
One half of the building is now home to the Belmont Department of Parks and Recreation and one half is used by the Belmont Fire Department for storage.
Beaudin said the Parks Department is preparing to relocate to the Belmont Mill and said last night there are a few things the town needs to do to the historic mill before the department can move.
A study prepared by a specially-convened Belmont Property Assessment Committee said the Winnisquam station was originally built in 1940 and has seen a number of additions and renovations. When the current Belmont Fire Station opened in 1995, there was some discussion about relocating the Police Department there, however in 2000 police added 1,250-square-feet to the existing station.
The committee looked at all town property except the library, the police department, and the current fire station on Route 140.
The report said the walls of the station show signs of decay or "carbonation", some of the mortar joints around the building are beginning to looses and the metal doors are beginning to rust. The roof needs to be re-shingled and the low-sloped roof over the kitchen needs to be completely rebuilt.
The committee said the interior of the building is in fair condition and the combustion chamber on the furnace is cracked.
"With the current condition of the Winnisquam Fire Station the Property Assessment Committee feels there is greater value in selling the building than there is repairing it," reads the recommendation.
If Winnisquam Marine is interested enough to make an offer on the property, Beaudin said it would be evaluated and placed on a warrant article at a future Town Meeting for a vote.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 02:11
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