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Cooperative leadership to maintain quality of life at Briarcrest Estates

LACONIA — "We cannot drop below the standard set by the Mooneys," said Orry Gibbs, president of the Lakemont Cooperative, which purchased Briarcrest Estates from Mark and Ruth Mooney in April. "Our goal is is to change as little as possible and then only to make improvements. We're not taking any steps backward."

The cooperative was formed a year ago when the Mooneys accepted an offer from Hometown America Corporation to buy the manufactured housing park for $10 million. State law requires park owners to consider a matching offer from a tenants' cooperative and negotiate in good faith. The impending sale divided the tenants between those aligned with the cooperative and an apparent majority preferring commercial ownership. When the Mooneys asked the Belknap County Superior Court to sanction a sale to Hometown America, a group of tenants supported their request. However, the Mooneys ultimately chose to withdraw their suit and sell to the cooperative.

Gibbs, who straddled the fence for much of the controversy before deciding to support Mooneys, said yesterday that the tension and acrimony among tenants has largely dissipated. "There is a positive, friendly atmosphere in the park and I think the community spirit has increased," she said.

With 241 units, Briarcrest Estates is the third largest manufactured housing park in the state. Gibbs said that 173 of the 240 current households have joined the cooperative and membership is steadily rising. She said that all new tenants are required to join the cooperative.

Gibbs, who has lived at Briarcrest for the past 22 years, heads a seven member board of directors elected by the members of cooperative at its annual meeting. "We are a multi-million dollar corporation," she said, likening the role of the board to that of a large commercial enterprise.

At the same time, the cooperative operates much like a small town, with the directors analogous to the selectmen and members, or households, in aggregate acting as a town meeting. The directors, she explained oversee the management and operation of the park and, recommend introducing policies and amending bylaws to the members for their approval.

The board includes four members of the interim board initially convened by the cooperative to pursue and complete the acquisition of the park. Vice-president, Kathleeen Bateson, the administrator of Merrimack County, where she oversees an $81-million budget, brings 40 years of experience and knowledge in municipal and county government to the board. Unlike Gibbs, Bateson was among the leaders of the cooperative from the outset, but although the two began on opposite sides, they have become close colleagues and fast friends.

Bateson also chairs the Finance Committee, which includes Kevin Kelly, a retired banker. "We are fortunate to have a very competent group of directors," said Bateson, who has lived in the park for 16 years.

The cooperative engaged Foxfire Property Managment, Inc. of Concord, which manages some 1,400 residential properties in northern New England, to manage the day-to-day operations of the park. Gibbs said that Foxfire collects the rents and manages the finances, reporting to the board each each month. The firm has dedicated two of its employees to Briarcrest. In addition, personnel from the ROC (Resident Owned Communities) program of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, which assisted the cooperative in acquiring the park, provide advice and counsel. "I think we're in terrific hands," Gibbs said.

Apart from the finance committee, there are panels to consider bylaws, oversee operations, manage the community center, coordinate social activities, shepherd prospective tenants and serve the membership.

Bateson said that the annual budget is approximately $1-million, of which $677,000 represents debt service on the $10-million financing package to purchase the park. The operating budget is about $200,000 and another $60,000 is designated for capital improvements, including equipment purchases. The balance represents a project surplus. The membership unanimously endorsed the budget proposed by the board of directors.

Bateson said that the major question overshadowing the budget is the reassessment of the land value the park following the transfer of ownership, which will determine the 2014 property tax commitment. While the budget was adopted in June, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration will not confirm the assessed value until October.

Gibbs said that the budget includes a projected rent increase of $10, which is less than the last increase set by the Mooneys. She anticipated similar increases for the next seven or eight years until the principal and interest payments diminish when the board expects to reduce or even forego an increase. "It is a minimal increase," she said, "and we intend to keep rent increases as low as possible."

Nevertheless, Gibbs said that the cooperative has "substantial financial obligations and must be run like a business. Not a cold business," she continued. "We will be attentive to the members, but we do have to make money to ensure that as costs rise, the quality of the park and our services do not change."

Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 12:18

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Abby Hernandez tells the Conway Daily Sun ongoing coverage gave her hope

By Daymond Steer

The Conway Daily Sun

CONWAY – While she was missing, Abby Hernandez said she saw the page 2 box in The Conway Daily Sun published every day that kept a count of the number of days she was gone, and it gave her hope.
Abby and her mother Zenya stopped by the Sun's office in North Conway Thursday morning to thank the newspaper's editorial staff and to tell the community they are thankful for the effort that went into the search.
"Thank you guys, so, so much, I really appreciate it more than I could possibly put in words," said the 15-year-old, who appeared relaxed and composed as any teenage girl. "I'm taking it a little at a time but I'm feeling a lot better every day."
The informal chat was the first time Abby has addressed the media in person and on record since she came home.
Nathaniel Kibby, 34, of Gorham, is charged with kidnapping her Oct. 9 after she left Kennett High School. She returned home on July 20.
The circumstances of her disappearance, where she was, and how she got home have not been made public, although it has been widely reported she was held in a steel storage container attached to Kibby's trailer.
Police have said, which was confirmed by Zenya Thursday, that releasing details at this time could compromised the ongoing investigation.
Kibby will next appear in court Aug. 12 at a probable cause hearing. Additional charges against him are expected.
Zenya said she and Abby appreciate the box the Sun ran on page two which contained a photo of Abby, a count of the days she was missing and the contact number for the FBI.
"As sad as it was to see the days growing and increasing, we truly thank you," said Zenya. "Abby saw that off and on. She didn't see it every day. It gave her hope that people were looking. It was one of the first things she said to me when she returned home, is 'thank you to The Conway Daily Sun.'"
Zenya said it was heartbreaking as a mother to see the number in the box grow larger.
"I saw that too and it was hard to see that," said Zenya. "At the same time, I knew that good people are there, you are good people, and it gave me hope when there was no hope at all."
When asked if there's anything Abby wants to do now that she's home, Abby replied that she would like to go horseback riding.
"I really miss that," said Abby. "I used to do it when I was little."
Zenya and Abby say they don't want to be treated as victims. Zenya said Abby is a "survivor" and needs to be empowered.
"I'd just like to be treated like a normal person," said Abby.


Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 12:04

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Rama sentenced to 12 months for role in February stabbing

LACONIA — A local man was sentenced to serve 12 months in the Belknap County House of Corrections for his role in the stabbing of a Belmont man in February.

Robert Rama, 22, whose last address was in Concord, was also ordered to pay a total $38,000 for the victim's medical bills joint and severably with co-defendent John J. Drouin, 27, of Laconia.

On July 23, Drouin was sentenced to serve 5 to 12 years in the N.H. State Prison for two felony counts of first-degree assault.

At Thursday's plea and sentencing hearing before Judge David Garfunkle, Asst. Belknap County Prosecutor Carley Ahern said Rama's role in the stabbing of Corey Cromwell and John Hynes was minimal and that it was Drouin who stabbed the two men.

Ahern said Rama and Drouin waited for Cormwell, Hynes and Cromwell's girlfriend in a common bathroom on Route 3 in Belmont. She said the two ambushed the other three and Cromwell was stabbed by Drouin multiple times in the neck. She said Cormwell's tongue was nearly severed.

Ahern noted that Rama was also charged with simple assault for grabbing Cromwell's girlfriend when she tried to help him, but said there could be some testimony at trial that Rama knew the woman and was actually trying to her save her from harm during the fracas.

At the same time, Rama also pleaded guilty to two unrelated Laconia charges stemming from a car accident in January where he left the scene and tried to hide his car in a garage.

Ahern said police were able to trace the car back to Rama when they found his license plate in a snowbank.

He is ordered to pay $1,463 in restitution to Public Service of New Hampshire for the telephone pole he struck.

Judge Garfunkle initially seemed hesitant to accept the plea bargain which Ahern justified by saying he faces as much as 15 years in prison should he re-offend after his release from the Belknap County jail.

Rama's attorney Ted Barnes also noted that Rama used the 158 days he spent in jail awaiting trial wisely by taking advantage of every program that was available to him.

"You should consider yourself very fortunate," said Judge Garfunkle. "These are very serious matters and I have some serious thoughts about how you're going to conduct yourself."

Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 11:57

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LRGHealthcare CEO retires – Clairmont was with organization for 43 years

LACONIA — After 43 years with LRGHealthcare, the last quarter century as its president and chief executive officer, Tom Clairmont is retiring.

The Board of Trustees, announced Clairmont's retirement in a formal statement issued Thursday evening.

"Tom Clairmont has provided decades of critical leadership and service to LRGHealthcare and his tenure will be looked back upon as one of innovation and fiscal responsibility," said Scott Clarenbach, chairman of the board. "Tom has played a vital role in our evolution into the leading healthcare provider for the Lakes Region."

Clarenbach said yesterday that the trustees are scheduled to announce the appointment of an interim president on  Monday, Aug.4. The board, he explained, has begun a strategic planning process which, once complete, will indicate the qualities and skills expected of a permanent successor. At that point -- which he suggested would not be anytime soon -- the board will mount a search. "We are taking this very seriously," he stressed, "but we are also looking for the person with the right qualities."

The Sun attempted to reach Clairmont for this story, but the calls were not immediately returned yesterday.

Born and raised in Belmont, where he volunteered with the Fire Department while in high school, Clairmont joined the financial department of Lakes Region General Hospital in 1971 as an accountant. While working his way to become comptroller and director of fiscal services he earned his bachelor's degree at St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vt., and his master's degree in business administration, with a speciality in healthcare management, at Boston College. When Belmont lost its contracted ambulance service in the 1970s, Clairmont not only arranged for the town to acquire and equip an ambulance, but also was among those responding to the first medical emergencies.

After serving in senior operational and financial positions Clairmont was named president and chief and executive officer of Lakes Region General Hospital in March 1989. His tenure began with a period of growth that positioned what became LRGHealthcare as the hub of a network of hospitals, clinics and services providing medical care to the residents of more than two municipalities in the three counties of Lakes and Three Rivers regions.

Clarenbach described Clairmont as "a very innovative leader," with a strong belief in a collaborative approach to providing medical services and a strong commitment to ensuring widespread access to healthcare. Apart from the hospital, Clairmont spawned satellites offering fitness programs and day care for elders along with a dental resource center and holistic health center. There was a program to assist patients with the cost of prescription medications.

The hospital entered an arrangement with the city of Laconia to share the costs of of staffing and equipping the Fire Department ambulance service. The growth that occurred under Clairmont's tenure was crowned by the merger of Lakes Region General Hospital and Franklin Regional Hospital and the christening of LRGHealthcare in 2000.

By then the pressures weighing on the not-for-profit corporation had begun to appear. Orthopedic Professional Association (OPA), a medical practice which moved to in Gilford, sought to open its own ambulatory surgical center. LRGH resisted, and in a settlement with OPA LRGH became the operator of ambulatory surgical facility. Today Advanced Orthopaedic Specialists is among LRGH's affiliated services.

However, Clarenbach said that the trend has persisted, as alternative providers of lab work, and imaging services along with walk-in clinics have proliferated.

Meanwhile, with a disproportionate share of Medicaid patients, LRGH began feeling the squeeze between its rising costs of providing care and the low reimbursement rates it received from the state. In 2004 and 2005, under Clairmont's leadership, the corporation began shrinking or shedding some of its costly satellite programs and services, turned to investing in its core facilities, and engaging in the politics of healthcare. Clarenbach credited with Clairmont with steering LRGHealthcare through "a rapidly changing and very challenging healthcare environment on a shoestring."

Construction of the new Inter-Lakes Medical Center in Meredith began in 2009, and in 2011 a new 97,000-square foot addition to Lakes Region General Hospital was opened, and sections of Franklin Regional Hospital were renovated. LRGHealthcare countered the appearance of walk-in clinics with one of its own, Convenience Care, and introduced specialties of its own, like MAKOplasty knee and hip surgery and the Weight Institute of New Hampshire. Last year Franklin Regional Hospital added a psychiatric department.

Clairmont was among the chief architects of the Granite Healthcare Network, a partnership of five hospitals with 1,000 physicians and 9,000 employees serving 500,000 people in 50 municipalities in New Hampshire. Formed in 2010, the network created an insurance exchange to reduce the cost of malpractice insurance. Since then the partners have pursued joint purchasing of laboratory services and information technology priced beyond the means of individual members. Clarenbach said that the network offers a means to significantly reduce costs while improving the quality of care.

When former Gov. John Lynch sought to transfer the surplus accumulated by a medical malpractice insurance fund to the state general fund, LRGHealthcare, as the largest single premium payer, challenged the state in court and ultimately prevailed, recovering $3.5-million. Likewise, more recently LRGHealthcare joined with all but one of the state's largest hospitals in suing the state over its calculation and distribution of Medicaid payments.

As a young man, Clairmont joined a hospital, which he transformed into a comprehensive healthcare facility consisting of two hospitals, with 157 beds between them, along with 22 affiliated medical programs and services. He also found time to share his energy and talent with the Caring Community Network of the Twin Rivers, Community Health and Hospice, Rural Health Coalition of New Hampshire, the Taylor Community, and Bank of New Hampshire.


Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 11:51

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