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State school bill blows up at Senate/House conference

CONCORD — Differences among House and Senate lawmakers over how to deal with the site of the former Laconia State School property, which the city has sought to acquire, prompted Representative Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) to declare publicly yesterday that he would do all he could to see that Laconia never owned the property.

"Sometimes things get a little overheated," Chandler, a former speaker of the House, said later, "but I can't say I didn't say it."

Chandler's frustration arose over legislation to repeal a provision of the 2012-2013 state budget stipulating that the former State School property off North Main Street be offered for sale. The bill carried the House by a voice vote, but the Senate amended it to delay the effective date until June 30, 2015. The House refused to concur and requested a committee of conference, which met yesterday but failed to reach agreement, effectively scuttling the bill.

By repealing the current law any sale would become subject to the statute (RSA 4:40) governing the disposal of state-owned real estate. That law stipulates that before any sale the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, composed of four senators, four representatives and a representative of the governor's office, must first declare the property surplus before proceeding with any sale. Further, it requires that the property must first be offered to the municipality where it is located and cannot be sold for less than its "current market value."

When the conferees met, Chandler, who has consistently opposed the sale of the property, proposed the repeal become effective on January 1, 2015, but the Senate conferees refused. Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) said that he and fellow conferees — Senators Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) and Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) — agreed not to retreat from the Senate's position.

Chandler said that he sought to explain that under the law as it stands any private party could make a reasonable offer for the property. Consequently, he insisted that repealing the current would be "in the best interests of the city (Laconia)." When the Senate stood their ground, he confessed he grew "frustrated."

In 2011, the Legislature directed the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services to offer the entire site to the city for "not less than $10 million" and if the city failed to accept the offer, to offer it to Belknap County "at fair market value." If neither the city nor the county purchased the property, it would be put on the open market for no less than its fair market value.

That same year the state appraised the property for $2.16 million. The next year the City Council offered to purchase it for that amount, but the offer was not considered. The county expressed no interest in the property. Since then interest on the part of city officials in purchasing the property has waned.
When Mayor Ed Engler was inaugurated he said that the property represents a "tremendous economic development opportunity," not only for the city but also for the state. Ownership of the property, which rests with the state, he suggested is less important than the use of the site. "No other use of that beautiful piece of property should be considered until the state, in cooperation with Laconia, has exhausted every reasonable possibility that it could be used to site hundreds, if not thousands, of high-paying, professional-level jobs," Engler declared, vowing to pursue that goal as a "top priority."

The property consists of four tax parcels. The largest, some 200-acres, is bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. This parcel includes some 60 acres adjacent to the Robbie Mills Sports Complex bounded by Eastman Road and Green Street known as Risley Field, which the city leases on a short-term basis to provide parking for the sports complex. There are also two smaller parcels. An undeveloped 10.4-acre lot at the junction of Old North Main Street and North Main Street and an unimproved wooded lot of 7.5-acres at the corner of Lane Road and Meredith Center Road.The state also leased both smaller parcels to the city in 2000 for 99 years at $1 a year.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 12:35

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City landlords back police officer at disciplinary hearing

LACONIA — When city police officer Brandi Enis was dispatched to what she thought was a fairly routine civil stand-by one afternoon in April, she probably never would have guessed she would be sitting in front of a disciplinary board two months later, with many of the city's landlords there to support her.

Typically, disciplinary boards, comprised of the Board of Commissioners, are held out of the public eye, however Enis and her lawyer Brad Davis asked for this one to be held in public, which is her right.

Along with the landlords, a number of rank-and-fiile police officers, including Laconia Police Association President Jeff Wholley, attended.

According to the agreed to facts, the landlord, John Daigneault, owns a two-family home on Elm Street and had called police on April 17 to help him because he needed to change a filter in one of the furnaces. Police routinely send "civil standbys" to homes or businesses to protect people and property from harm from another.

Civil stand-byes includes a police escort for someone to remove his or her belongings safely from a property, in cases where an employee has been terminated and may act out, or to assist landlords with evictions that may turn on them. Daily police logs show at least one or two are performed daily by all police departments.

When Enis arrived, Daigneault told her the way to get to the basement was through the tenant's apartment but that he was in the process of evicting him and the two had had ugly words the day before regarding an unrelated issue. He told her he had sent notice to the tenant more than 24 hours before he wanted to change the filter.

Enis said she knocked on the tenant's door, announced herself repeatedly as a police officer and after getting no answer, stood by while Daigneault used the key to let himself in. She said she made sure no one was in the apartment; she checked the bedroom again by announcing her presence; the landlord went into the basement and changed the filter; and the two were gone in less than five minutes.

She said she left her business card there for the tenant who apparently later called her supervisor, Sgt. Mike Finogle to complain about her being in the apartment without his permission.

Where the story splits into two sides is what happened after Finogle's investigation.

Finogle investigated and determined that she accidentally violated the tenant's Fourth Amendments rights and issued a letter of reprimand for unsatisfactory performance that Enis signed. He emphasized that her actions were not malicious but it is his contention that she should have called him to see if she could enter the home if the tenant wasn't there.

"She blindly followed the landlord," Finogle said.

He also said she should have ascertained that there were other ways for the landlord to get into the basement without going through the tenant's apartment.

Speaking of behalf of management, Prosecutor Jim Sawyer said that if anything illegal had been found it would have been suppressed by a criminal court.

"Did you think you could do this legally?" he asked Enis while the landlords watching the procedure were nodding that it was legal after the 24 hour notice had been given.

When the letter went upstairs to management, they determined it was the officer's third letter of reprimand in four months and launched an internal investigation — also assigned to Finogle.

Ultimately, management decided she should get two days of suspension without pay because the other letters of reprimand were also for "unsatisfactory performance." Three three violations in the same category of offense constitutes a two-day suspension according to the LPD police manual.

In her defense, Enis said she had never been trained on landlord-tenant civil law and that she was obligated to go where the dispatcher sent her. She has been a police officer in Laconia for five years and worked in law enforcement in Tampa, Florida and the Strafford County Sheriff's office before coming to Laconia.

She said Daigneault had the key to the apartment and was in the building for less than five minutes. Enis said she asked Daigneault if he had given the tenant 24-hour notice and he said he had.

"It's like you're damned if you do and damned it you don't," said Davis telling the commissioners Enis was in a "no-win situation."

He said the general practice is for officer to go in to ensure there is no harm to people and property and that an officer must go where he or she is sent by dispatchers.

Daigneault testified on Enis's behalf. He said the other two ways into the basement were unavailable — on was through a door that was dead-bolted from the inside by the tenants and the other was through the upstairs tenants apartment who has an illness and doesn't like to be disturbed.

"I have the authority to be there according to the lease agreement," Daigneault said, who said he called the Laconia Police after he had been referred to them by the Belknap County Sheriff's office, which was assisting with the eviction.

"(Enis) is being persecuted for no reason at all," Daigneault said. "She was there to do her job."

He also accused police management of attacking his credibility as well as Enis's for accusing both of them of violating someone's Fourth Amendment rights (protection from unreasonable search and seizure).

In closing, Davis questioned not only Enis's actions that day but why all of her infractions were categorized as "unsatisfactory performance."

"In my view they are not of the same type," he said noting that one of the other letters was for not writing out a sworn affidavit in time for an arraignment for a man who was incarcerated and one was for not creating a difference offense number for what Enis said was an ongoing investigation being done by an officer who was on vacation.

Davis said all three letter of reprimand were from Finogle, however Sawyer said two were from Finogle and one was issued by Lt. Rich Simmons.

Davis said the three have nothing to do with each other and that since the tenant withdrew his complaint and the landlord was there to defend her, no one is complaining about it except police management.

Sawyer rebutted by saying that Enis relied on a person "she didn't know from Adam" and that she can't go into someone's house without their permission.

Many of the landlords who attended yesterday's hearing wanted to speak on Enis's behalf, but since it wasn't a public hearing they were not allowed to. Police Commission Chair Warren Clements said the time for public comment was at the next commissioner's meeting and all were welcome to address the commission and management at that time.

A few landlords said after that they depend on the police to help them with civic stand-byes and felt that Enis was being unfairly targeted.

One landlord, who had never met Enis and did not wish to be identified, said Enis didn't make a mistake. She was sent there to do a job and now they're saying she did it wrong.

She said the landlord did the right thing by getting a civil standby and since he gave 24 hour notice, he had every right to be there and to bring a police officer with him because of the prior issues he had had with the tenant.

"She did nothing wrong," said this landlord.

Commissioners said they would issue a ruling on Enis's suspension within three to five days.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 12:25

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Barnstead neighbors still fighting about cat poop

LACONIA — Two Barnstead neighbors were back in court yesterday apparently still fighting over whether or not one women's cats are destroying one man's property with cat poop.

The issue began last year when they filed restraining orders against each other — Gilles Dube claims Victoria Bednarski's three cats continually defecate on his property, ruining his beach and the landscaping around his house.

Bednarski complained that Dube lights fireworks off next to her property line and occasionally fires guns.

After hearing the complaints in June of 2013 in the Belknap County Superior Court, Judge Kenneth McHugh issued a reciprocal restraining order.

Both parties stipulated that Bednarski has three cats while Dube has one but Dube insists that it is Bendarski's cats that continue to defecate on his property.

McHuge ordered Bednarski to keep her cats inside and not allow them to "use (Dube's) property as a giant litter box." In return he ordered Dube to stop firing guns and lighting fireworks at odd hours of the night.

As the winter snows melted this spring, Dube said he came to his property and once against found evidence of multiple cat poop on his (Locke Lake) beach. He said yesterday in Judge James O'Neill's courtroom that Bednarski recently told him he could "eat cat (poop)" and that her cats were there for her enjoyment.

He offered O'Neill pictures of what he said was cat poop but the judge didn't want to look at them.

Attorney Emily McLaughlin, representing Bednarski, told the court that her client said that she would think this whole case was funny if it wasn't happening to her. But it is.

McLaughlin said Dube has not stated a legal remedy and only provided a written "screed" about the allegedly misdoings of the Bednarskis as well as the Board of Selectmen and the Barnstead Police Department. who have at some point in time tried to defuse the tension between the two warring parties.

McLaughlin characterized Dube's recent request that the court find Bednarski in contempt as "vexatious litigation" and asked that it be dismissed.
"This is a waste of resources and was filed solely to harass," McLaughlin said, who also asked for the court to order Dube to pay her legal fees because Bednarski had to hire a lawyer.

She said the Bednarski is afraid to let her cats out of her house because of the alleged harassment and has had to contact the Locke Lakes Board of Trustees to try and ameliorate the situation.

In reply, Dube said he recently collected another pile of cat feces and that Bednarski was using cat poop as a way to "keep destroying his property."

O'Neill said he would make a ruling shortly but ordered that the mutual restraining order issued remain fully in place.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 11:49

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Amy Lafond listens to Lily Johnson's family before sentence is handed down

LACONIA — As more than 50 relatives and friends of the victims sat quietly in Belknap County Superior Court, Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County yesterday sentenced Amy Lafond to three-and-a-half years in prison for causing the death of Lilyanna Johnson and severely injuring Allyssa Miner.

"I cannot imagine the pain you all must be suffering," O'Neill said after passing sentence. This is truly a tragedy for our community."

Lafond was sentenced a week after pleading guilty to negligent homicide, second degree assault, possession of a narcotic drug and unlawful possession of a prescription medication. Other charges arising from the incident — manslaughter, a misdemeanor drug offense and three traffic violations — were dropped as the result of a plea bargain. Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen told the court, as she did a week ago when Lafond entered her plea, that the families of the victims accepted her decision to negotiate the plea bargain rather than take the case to trial.

For negligent homicide Lafond was sentenced to three-and-a-half to seven years in prison and required to undergo counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, forfeit her driver's license indefinitely and have no contact with the family of Lilyanna Johnson. She was also sentenced to three-and-a-half to seven years, for the second degree assault, to be served consecutively with six months of the minimum suspended conditional on counseling and treatment and good behavior for seven years while on parole. Lafond is also forbidden contact the family of Allyssa Miner.
The three-and-a-half to seven year sentence for possession of a narcotic drug was suspended, conditional on her good behavior for 10 years while on parole. Finally she was given a suspended sentence of a year in the Belknap County House of Corrections for unlawful possession of a prescription drug, a misdemeanor.

In addition, Lafond was ordered to make restitution of more than $265,000.
"This was certainly not what we anticipated," said Lilyanna Johnson's mother Bethany Davis after the hearing. She said that she expected a sentence of at least 20 years.
Earlier Davis, her gaze fixed on Lafond, told the court of watching the life leave her daughter's eyes and said "there's nothing left for us. You've taken it all."
Davis was among eight family members and close friends to address the court, several of them facing Lafond, who did not turn away. Spike Davis, who described himself as Johnson's favorite uncle, said that "she took away our angel. The world is not as good a place without Lily." To Lafond, he said, "I'm praying for you, because she asked me to."
"You took her away," declared Johnson's grandmother Susan Fleming, adding "I will never, ever forgive you. Your sentence should end when Lily's sentence ends," she continued. "You can go home when Lily comes home to us."
Jenn Camire said that "someone who made so many bad decisions took from us one who made so many good ones," then eyed Lafond and challenged her "to turn around and look at Lilyanna's family and friends." Asking for the maximum sentence, she said that "the punishment does not even come close to fitting the crime."
"This is a difficult, heartrending day for the entire community," began Pamela Littlefield, who said that "this was not an accident, but the result of poor decisions. And the results are irreversible."
The two girls, both 14 year old students at Laconia Middle School, were struck by the Jeep Cherokee driven by Lafond while on the sidewalk near the crosswalk at the south end of the Messer Street Bridge at approximately 2:30 p.m. on April 19. Lafond was traveling northbound on Messer Street toward its intersection with Opechee Street. A car going in the same direction had stopped at the crosswalk, apparently to enable students to cross the street. Lafond skirted the stopped car, crossed into the southbound lane of Messer Street, mounted the raised sidewalk and hit the two girls. That evening Johnson died from her injuries while Miner suffered a fractured pelvis and ruptured spleen as well as severe lacerations and internal injuries.


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 11:40

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