Meredith library trustees seek attorney’s guidance on new building

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The Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library on Main Street falls short on space and spurs safety concerns, trustees say. On Thursday, Jan. 12, the library board voted to authorize a discussion with the neighboring Baptist Church about an access for library staff, after Library Director Erin Apostolos warned that employees are afraid of falling on the ice when arriving at work. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)


MEREDITH — Uncertain about how to launch a fundraising campaign for a new library building, library trustees plan to consult Concord attorney Biron Bedard and pick his brain.
Bedard, who lives in Meredith, is managing director of Ransmeier & Spellman P.C., a law firm with offices in Concord and Alton.
Library trustee Duncan McNeish said he sat next to Bedard at a Monday, Jan. 9, workshop of Meredith Selectmen where the library board made its case for a new building. Later, McNeish invited the attorney to sit down with library board members and share his advice.
"He's skilled in dealing with these issues," McNeish said at a meeting of the library board Thursday. "He has some very good ideas of what to do in terms of enhancing our outreach efforts."
The 9 a.m. meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19, with Bedard is likely to be called as a nonpublic session not open to the general public. Under state law, exceptions to open meetings include "consultation with legal counsel." Reasons for nonpublic sessions include "consideration of legal advice provided by legal counsel, either in writing or orally, to one or more members of the public body, even where legal counsel is not present." Acquisition of real estate is another condition.
"That is not an open meeting because we are consulting with our lawyer," said Beverly Heyduk, chairman of the library board.
Trustees wrestled with the task of convincing voters that the historic Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library building — an ornate multi-level building on Main Street — no longer suffices as a home to the public library. Limited parking, space and accessibility are among the chief complaints. Trustees point to more serious concerns, such as fire and safety code violations on the second and third floors.
"If we are to stay here or the town is to occupy this building, the second and third floors of this historic building need to be attended to," McNeish said.
McNeish agreed to research costs of upgrading the building to meet fire and safety codes. "That should be a responsibility of the town," he said.
Already, the board has unveiled a pair of choices. Cost to stay at the existing 3,300-square-foot library, including renovations and construction of a 12,000-square-foot addition, would reach $4.145 million, according to library board consultant Ron Lamarre. In the board's preferred choice, the town could build a 14,000-square-foot library for $3.15 million on the Robertson property, a parcel at Parade Road and Route 3.
Heyduk said the preference for moving was not taken lightly. "There are serious safety issues, and our patrons are the most important responsibility of ours," she said.
Town Manager Phillip Warren Jr. said he suggested to the town's capital improvement program advisory committee that voters be asked to support placing $50,000 in an expendable trust fund, with $30,000 to support a feasibility study on use of the Robertson property. This would be a de facto "yes or no" question about moving, he said at the selectmen's workshop.
But library trustees, who are contemplating a warrant article of their own, debated what to ask voters.
"It can't be for a general overview, it has to be for a specific purpose," McNeish said.
Trustee Pam Coburn said the board should fund-raise on the basis of a "vision" rather than a particular place or plan.
"The library is going to need money, this building is going to need money," she said. "If we stay here and expand here, we have to renovate this building. If we move out and they don't mothball this building, the town has to renovate this building."
Heyduk suggested making a plea for repair and maintenance of the existing building while also fund-raising for a new library. Other trustees warned that the public could perceive a mixed message.
Coburn warned, if a two thirds vote is required for permission to move, "that vote is doomed to fail."
Coburn also cautioned against the expendable trust fund article.
"The public is not ready. If we have that warrant article that's tied to the new site, and the vote is framed that way, we will fail and it will put us backward," she said.
"We have to separate this building and its needs from what the library is supposed to be doing," Coburn said.
Heyduk said, "I think we have spoken in soft voices, and it's time now to say what the issues are in a stronger voice so people do understand."
Trustee Jane Ramsay, who told selectmen she could not access parts of the existing library building, said the additional cost to renovate should make the case. "It's going to cost you a million and a half to get me in and out of this library. Who wants to spend that money?"
Heyduk said, "What we're up against is an emotional attachment to the library being in this building."
Another meeting of the Meredith selectmen is expected Monday, Feb. 6, prior to Town Meeting on March 15. Library trustees moved their February meeting to 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, so they would have time to submit a warrant article.

Panic or profit? Bill to legalize firecrackers sparks debate


CONCORD — A bill to legalize firecrackers in New Hampshire could lure customers back from Maine and help fireworks stores here, many merchants say, but critics point to a public-safety risk.
Senate Bill 23, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, faces opposition from fire chiefs, including Laconia Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson, who said the use of firecrackers in crowded places could simulate the sound of gunfire and cause panic.
A brick of firecrackers — also called "salutes" — can deliver "a tremendous amount of little explosions," Erickson said.
"There are several concerns with salutes in general, one is there are 20 salutes to a pack, you throw that into an area with a lot of people, and that could easily be construed as gunfire," he said.
House Bill 100, which exempts toy smoke devices from the prohibition on the sale or use of smoke bombs, also could cause problems, Erickson said.
"Throw a smoke bomb in a building, and again, you can create panic," he said.
"The real concern in today's day and age is some kid throwing a pack of salutes or a smoke bomb into a crowd," Erickson said.

"It's really a concern about what they can do to a crowd," he added of firecrackers. "They distinctively sound like gunfire."
Area fireworks stores were divided, with Fireworks of Tilton predicting little change in sales if the bill passed. Multiple-shot fireworks are among the most popular items there, and customers rarely ask for firecrackers, store staff reported.
Others, such as Atlas Fireworks in Belmont, field frequent questions from customers about firecrackers (personnel at the Belmont store deferred specific questions to the Atlas corporate office).
Fireworks Over The Border in Seabrook reported in an email that the bill could be helpful to the industry. "Firecrackers are not powerful, and like anything else, used properly, pose no problem. Its passage will return the New Hampshire customer back from Maine," the store reported in an email.
Rob Jacobs, owner of JPI Pyrotechnics LLC. in Allenstown, told the Laconia Daily Sun via email that he sells "display" fireworks for events, but he said he understands the retail perspective.

"From an industry standpoint, regulation certainly curtails business traffic," Jacobs wrote. "Our state and federal government write regulations for fireworks based on an extreme few number of mishaps, but when an injury occurs, even very minor ones, it then becomes a rally cry for government to make a new rule. Fighting back from those rules is daunting."
In the retail arena, "firecrackers are indeed 'big business' bringing revenue to the state," Jacobs wrote. "Firecrackers, which are used properly, are essentially harmless. If not used properly, they can cause burns, noise pollution, and other more serious injuries. The same thing can happen if you mis-use your blow dryer or a BB gun you can buy at Kmart for your 8-year-old! I know that allowing firecrackers into NH will be a big hit with retailers and I believe the general public will embrace it. It's this same group who's pushing to get it legalized here in New Hampshire. Cities and towns can place whatever ordinance they can pass to allow, or not allow them — that aspect sort of makes the state's position moot."

Erickson said firecrackers, like smoke bombs, are not a major fire threat but rather a hazard in the instance of panicking groups of people.
And one legislator in a hearing reasoned that nobody would set off firecrackers indoors — a position that betrayed a lack of familiarity with human nature, Erickson said.
Erickson received a Dec. 29, 2016 bulletin from the Division of Fire Safety, Office of the State Fire Marshal, which reported "a new trend" in New Hampshire involving "bottle sparkler" and "dessert sparkler" fireworks devices being used in nightclubs or similar venues, in clear violation of the safety warnings on these devices.
"I haven't heard of any being used in Laconia," Erickson said, but he cautioned that expansion of the fireworks law could create risk.
"It can lead to serious consequences," he said.
According to a June 30, 2016, list from the state fire marshal's office, Belknap County communities that prohibit consumer fireworks include Alton and Gilford (permissible with prohibitions). Laconia does not restrict consumer fireworks beyond state rules, according to the fire department.
In Meredith, a town ordinance stipulates that "the discharge of any fireworks requires a permit. Permits are available at the town website and must be submitted 15 days prior to the date requested. Fines from $50-$1,000 can result from discharging fireworks without a permit."

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Timeline is outlined in case of fatal drug sale


LACONIA — Tilton Detective Nathan Buffington spent Friday morning detailing to the jury the cell phone information, video recordings and other evidence he collected in his effort to prove that Northfield man Brian Watson was the person who sold a lethal dose of fentanyl to a 21-year-old Tilton man on April 2 of 2015.

Buffington, whose testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesda morning at 9:30, helped the state create a timeline of where Seth Tilton-Fogg was in the 24 hours preceding his death that day in his bedroom.

Buffington explained how, through search warrants and cell phone technology made available to police from a company in Manchester, he was able to document several text messages on April 2 between a phone owned by Watson and one owned by Tilton-Fogg's father.

The texts began, according to Buffington, at 8:36 a.m. when Tilton-Fogg woke up in the morning and got a text massage from Watson's phone asking if he needed a delivery and when he wanted it. Subsequent test messages said that Tilton-Fogg's stepfather was home and that Watson's phone's messages noted his truck was loud.

Later that evening, according to the testimony, the two phones exchanged text messages, including one from Tilton-Fogg that he was looking for two "Gs." Buffington told the jury that "G" typically meant gram and at 9:37 p.m. received a message that it was "240," which Buffington said was the amount of money.

Tilton-Fogg said he was planning on going to Hannaford's supermarket just over the Franklin border and would be walking back toward his home, which was across from Daily Queen. A text from Watson's phone said he was coming back from Manchester and a second one from the same phone said he was "heading to weigh it out."

At 10:03 p.m.,Tilton-Fogg texted that he was leaving Hannaford's, that he "had the loot" and that he would see who ever was using Watson's phone at Smitty's Cinema.

Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandson showed the jury videos obtained from Hannaford's that showed Tilton-Fogg entering and leaving the store. A receipt Buffingon got from the store indicated he bought primarily junk food and got $40 in cash back.

Buffington told the jury that Tilton-Fogg was wearing the same clothes in the Hannaford video as he was when his body was found the next morning by his mother.

The last text message in Tilton-Fogg's phone was to Watson's phone but it was never sent.

Guldbrandsen also tried to counter previous testimony given by Watson's former girlfriend, Teanna Bryson, that Tilton-Fogg had multiple drug sources, including one with whom he had had recent contact.

Buffington testified there were text messages between Tilton-Fogg's phone and the other drug source's phone up until March 29, 2015, when the communications, at least as far as Tilton-Fogg's phone, ceased.

Guldbrandson also reviewed the text messages sent from Bryson's phone to Watson's phone on April 6 after she learned that Tilton-Fogg had died that said she thought "our stuff killed someone."

Buffington said that during his investigation he conducted surveillance at Watson's home on Cross Mill Road in Northfield and saw a dark blue Ford Expedition that was described as one that Watson drove.

Buffington's testimony will resume today.