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Seymour steps down as mayor but up as new COO at Meadowbrook

LACONIA — Only two men have served as both chairman of the School Board and mayor of the city, Rod Dyer and Mike Seymour, who steps down on Monday, after his second term. "We did in the opposite order," Seymour remarked.

Seymour was elected mayor in 2010, joining a veteran city council with five members — Matt Lahey, Henry Lipman, Brenda Baer, Bob Hamel and Armand Bolduc — who had been together for two terms. "I learned a lot from everybody around that table," Seymour said.

Seymour counted the search for a city manager to replace Eileen Cabanel, which began near the close of his first year in office, as "the biggest challenge and, in hindsight, one of the most impactful decisions the council made." He said that in guiding the process, he sought to impress upon the council that "we need to focus on where we need to be going, not where we've been." The process, he described, as lengthy, consuming a considerable amount of time and requiring a significant investment in research.

Seymour recalled that when Scott Myers, the only candidate who appeared at the final interview without an armful of documentation, left the room Bolduc said flatly "well, we can stop right here." Only one councilor expressed strong reservations, preferring a more experienced candidate. Seymour said that he was encouraged by the near unanimity in the face of such an important choice, which suggested that the council would work well together as other issues arose.

Seymour had high praise for Myers, who he said quickly became engaged in the life of the city. Without acting as a seventh councilor, "he is always bringing ideas and suggestions to the council," he said. At the same time, he noted that Myers has used his relationships in Concord and even Washington to the advantage of the city. "We've charted an amazing course with Scott at the helm," he said.

As a candidate, Seymour touted strategic planning and as mayor initiated the process. "It worked out well," he said, explaining that the council, in partnership with the city manager and department heads set priorities and monitoring the progress toward pursuing them. "We were proactive and looking long-term," he said. "The council began dealing with issues it chose, not only reacting to circumstances that arose."

Likewise, Seymour convened what he called "business roundtables" designed to foster a closer relationship between City Hall and the business community. He said that "some positives" came from the 18 months of meetings, referring specifically to a "relocation package" created to enable those doing business in the city to navigate the regulatory and permitting process.

Confessing that his service on the School Board was initially aroused suspicion abut his role as mayor, Seymour said that the tension that had marked relations between the City Council and the School District was overcome during his tenure. He said that councilors, particularly Bob Hamel, recognized that the renovation and expansion of the Huot Regional Technical Educaiton Center, together with improvements to the high school and its playing fields, would prove assets to the city. Meanwhile, Myers and School Superintendent Bob Champlin established a close working relationship that contributed significantly to "charting a different course."

As mayor, Seymour cast only one deciding vote, that in favor of introducing a mandatory recycling program rather than "Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT)." He said that "until five or 10 minutes before the vote I knew exactly what I was going to do. Vote for PAYT." He explained that his turnabout was the result of suddenly concluding that residents ought to be given the opportunity to do the right thing by recycling more trash and only have PAYT imposed on them if they failed. "If we have to go to PAYT," he said, "it should be their fault."

Seymour said that so far the mandatory program appears to meeting its targets.

Reflecting on his tenure, Seymour said "it's easy to do a good job when you're surrounded by good people. This team is so good, " he continued,. "I benefited and I'm thankful." He said that "the mayor's work should be done before you sit down at the council table, on the phone behind the scene."

Not only is Seymour stepping down as mayor, but also leaving his position as a vice-president of Franklin Saving Bank to become the chief operating officer of Meadowbrook Musical Arts Center. He said that he grown weary of banking, where he spent his working life, and for the past year had discussed the move with R.J. Harding, a personal friend. "It would have been difficult to make the move as mayor," he said, explaining that "it's not that I've lost interest, "but I wouldn't be able to devote the time and master a new career."

At Meadowbrook, he said he will oversee day-to-day operations, including marketing and facilities, freeing Harding to pursue the relationships with agents and artists essential to offering shows that fill the seats.

However, Seymour, who at 46 has also served as president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, a trustee of LRGHealthcare, a director of the WLNH Children's Auction, said that he expects to return to community service "once I get settled in my new position. What that will be," he continued, "only time will tell. A project? A committee? Absolutely."

Last Updated on Saturday, 11 January 2014 01:51

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In the end, police station proposal gains unanimous BudCom support

GILFORD — In what some are calling a historical vote, the Budget Committee unanimously gave its support to a $1.213-million bond request for the renovation and expansion of the Police Department Wednesday night.

In addition, Town Administrator Scott Dunn told the committee that there is a good possibility that $150,000 could be offset by a federal Homeland Security grant, in which case the selectmen would reduce the warrant article by that amount.

"It's never going to get any cheaper," said Budget Committee Chair Phyllis Corrigan, speaking in support of the project. "If you going to do a job, do it right."

Corrigan's remarks were directed at member Kevin Leandro who supports the idea of the renovation but initially balked at the price.

Leandro said he's been on a tour, agrees that the Police Department facility at Town Hall is too small, is unsafe and in part unsanitary, but said he wanted to see a "piecemeal" approach to renovation.

He said he wants something to be done but didn't want to spend $1.213 million.

Corrigan went around the table and asked every member to voice their opinion before a vote on the motion to pass was taken. While most members had some questions for Lt. Kris Kelley, they also supported the project as presented.

At one point, member David Horvath, who along with Leandro is considered part of the more fiscally conservative wing of the committee, made a motion to reduce the article by $60,000, however the motion failed by a vote of 8 to 4.

Once the amendment failed, Leandro said he had listened to the opinions of the other members of the board, considered the presentation and information provided by Kelley, and had decided he would support the project as presented. After his motion to reduce the amount failed, Horvath also said he, too, would support it as presented.

The project would take the facility from 4,800-square-feet to 10,500-square-feet. Key elements include a reworking of the dispatch area to address some sanitation issues, the expansion of the evidence and records storage areas, and an additional holding cell. The building will also reuse space to make it more suitable for police work. An example is moving the interview rooms to more private areas of the station and reworking the bail commissioners' room for safety.

With the expansion of the evidence storage areas, the three storage containers in the rear of the parking lot will be removed. Right now, the town is paying $225 per month to rent them.

The main entrance to the Police Department will be moved out of the lobby and into the new building. Kelley said this allows for more privacy for people who need police services.

As it stands now, people who come to the station, other than those who are under arrest, must enter through the main lobby and Kelley said this poses safety and privacy issues for them as well as the rest of the people, including employees, who have business in Town Hall.

A safe room will be built in the existing lobby. Kelley said this allows someone to immediately get to a safe place without involving dispatchers who are often alone in the building on evening and overnights shifts. The safe room provides security for someone in immediate danger until a uniformed officer can return to the station.

There will be an Emergency Operations Center that will double as a training room and a community room. The EOC will be able to be completely secured and is included in the part of the project that could be offset by federal funds. There is also an upgrade to the security system and an emergency generator.

The proposed renovation differs in the one proposed in 2009 by removing the geothermal heating system and reconfiguring the way the building works internally for the police. The 2009 proposal was for $1.5 million and earned 59 percent of the voters' support.

Because this article involves a long-term debt obligaton, three-fifths or 60 percent of the voters must vote in favor of it.

Last Updated on Saturday, 11 January 2014 02:13

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Comparing apples to oranges? County officials say lawmaker don't understand changes made in wake of 2008 embezzlement scandal

LACONIA — While there is no question that personnel costs represent the lion's share of the county budget, disagreement about the level and growth of compensation and benefits overshadows the frayed relationship between the Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission.

When the convention met this week Representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), the chair, and Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) cited figures they claimed reflected unduly excessive compensation and generous benefits. Worsman said that the salaries of the six employees in the administration and finance departments have risen 91.7-percent since 2009 and projected a $500,000 increase in the employer contribution to health insurance premiums. Vadney suggested that the salaries of the nine department heads compared very favorably with their counterparts in the other nine counties and, in aggregate, exceeded the statewide average for the positions by $141,000.

County officials yesterday questioned these numbers, which they said overlooked significant changes in the structure of county government during the past five years.

In 2008, the county administrator, who also served as the finance director, pled guilty to embezzlement. That startling revelation prompted the commission, with guidance from the county's independent auditor and Primex, which provides risk management services to public entities, to restructure the county administration. County Administrator Deb Shackett said that at the time administrative functions were spread among the various departments, which operated independently and inconsistently, with much duplication of effort. In light of the financial improprieties, Shackett said that the primary concern was to strengthen internal controls, noting that the county employs 250 people and has an annual cash flow of $60 million. The auditor and Primex recommended centralizing administrative functions in a management structure akin to that of a private corporation and hiring both a human resources and (separate) finance director.

Shackett said that the cost of the administrative and financial functions in 2009 cannot be compared with those of 2013 because of the changed management structure. Formally there were four administrative and financial positions in 2009, but similar, often overlapping, functions were also performed by staff within the different departments. With the centralization of the functions and addition of two employees, the administrative and financial team has grown from four to six, so that any increase in cost reflects an increase in personnel, not the growth of individual salaries, as Worsman claimed.

Moreover, in the course of the restructuring, 41 full-time positions were eliminated to offset the hiring of the human resources and finance directors. Shackett said that the net reduction of 39 positions trimmed $2.3 million from the county budget in 2009.

Like Vadney, Shackett compared the salaries of the nine highest ranking county officials with their peers in other counties, acknowledging that not all counties have equivalent positions. Four county officials are elected — the treasurer, register of deeds, county attorney and county sheriff. Their salaries are set by the county convention. In Belknap County, the treasurer earns a stipend of $3,961 against the statewide average of $4,889. The register of deeds earns $68,415, more than any of her counterparts, compared to the average of $55,560. The county attorney earns $89,164, the second highest salary in the state, compared to the average of $80,455. The county sheriff earns $74,304, more than all his peers, compared to the average of $62,449.

The salaries of the department heads are set by the county commission. The superintendent of the Department of Corrections is paid $78,228, less than six of his ten counterparts and below the average of $86,995. The county administrator is paid $106,720, less than five others and the average of $111,689. The finance director earns $84,048, more than all but one of his peers and the average of $76,700. The human resource director is the highest paid in the state at $96,634, well above the average of $72,520. The nursing home administrator earns $90,000, less than six of his peers and below the average of $103,148.

Acknowledging that the cost of health insurance poses a challenge, Shackett pointed out that prior to 2009, employees contributed a flat dollar amount to the cost of their premiums, which virtually ensured that the county paid the entire cost of any annual increase. Since, the commission negotiated a percentage increase employees contribute between 5 percent and 6.5 percent and share the cost of an annual increase. Shackett said that in 2014 the cost of health insurance is projected to increase by $198,051 or 13.4-percent above what was spent in 2013.

Shackett said that the commission has renegotiated the health care plan several times and a health benefits review team, consisting of representatives of both management and labor, meets regularly in an effort to control the cost of health insurance. She also noted that the county benefits package, unlike those many municipalities, does does include life insurance, dental insurance or either short or long-term disability insurance.

According to data prepared by Finance Director Glen Waring, after adjusting for the a change in accounting for the nursing home in 2011 and the expenditure of federal stimulus funds,in 2011 and 2012, the total appropriation for operations has risen from $26,172,237 in 2008 to a projected $26,570,997 in 2014, an increase of 1.5 percent.

Last Updated on Saturday, 11 January 2014 01:42

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Dealers say there's no shortage of home heating oil; Fred Fuller company blames order backlog on phone system that crashed

LACONIA — Fuel oil dealers around the state are stepping into the breach to fill the heating oil tanks of customers of Fred Fuller Oil & Propane, one of the state's largest heating oil delivery companies, which has been plagued by delivery problems for more than a week.
The company which had hoped to have operations back to normal by today suffered another setback when its trouble-ridden telephone system crashed again yesterday morning.
Fred Fuller has blamed the problems in keeping up with deliveries to its customers on the frigid weather, coupled with a crash last week of its company-wide phone system which has been preventing customers from notifying the company that their fuel tanks were getting low.
The company is scrambling to clean up the backlog of overdue deliveries and is making progress in that regard, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti, who heads the AG's Consumer Protection Bureau.

Fred Fuller customer Scott Laliberte of Sprucewood Drive in Gilford said that he had only an eighth of a tank of fuel as of yesterday. When he was unable to reach Fuller by phone he went to the company's office in Laconia where an employee told him he was on the schedule to get more heating oil a week from today. "I told them I couldn't hold out that long. So I went fuel oil shopping."
Laliberte said that Dutile & Sons Oil Co. of Laconia is scheduled to deliver 100 gallons to his house sometime today.
Laliberte said had pre-paid for his oil with Fuller and once that pre-buy amount is used up he will no longer do business with Fuller.
Other fuel oil dealers in the state have adequate supplies of fuel and are aslo helping Fred Fuller customers fill their tanks, according to Bob Sculley, the executive director of the Oil Heat Council of New Hampshire, a trade association.
Sculley said that one dealer who belongs to his organization has for the last two weeks been fielding about 200 calls a day from frustrated Fred Fuller customers.
"There is no home heating oil shortage. There's plenty of supply," said Sculley. "This is a difficulty related to only one dealer," he said of Fred Fuller which, Sculley added, is not an Oil Heat Council member.
Close to 60 percent of New Hampshire homes are heated with oil.
Boffetti said that Fuller is "buying and delivering a large amount of oil every day," and its drivers were making deliveries well into the evening in order to fill customer orders.
Here in the Lakes Region, Stafford Oil has been delivering fuel to about 100 Fred Fuller customers a day since last Friday, according to Curtis Stafford, the company's vice president. "We don't want them to suffer" due to lack of heat, he said.
Fred Fuller is considered to be the largest fuel-oil delivery company based in New Hampshire. Although the company does not divulge how many customers it has, the number is believed to be around 50,000. The company, based in Hudson, serves much of the southern half of the state, including the Lakes Region, as well as some Massachusetts communities close to the New Hampshire border.
Both Fairpoint Communications and NEC, the provider of Fred Fuller's telephone system, were working together to solve the telephone problems, Fred Fuller attorney Simon Leeming said yesterday. Leeming said that Fairpoint and NEC had made five or six "major corrections" since the phone system went down last week. He said the telephone system seriously exacerbated the company's ability to make timely deliveries because a high portion of its customers are not on an automatic delivery schedule, but rather call the company whenever their fuel tanks start getting low.
Boffetti said he was aware of the latest failure of Fred Fuller's phone system, but he said the AG's office was still holding the company to its promise to have the backlog of deliveries to its customers cleared up by today.
The breakdown in the telephone system prompted Gov. Maggie Hassan to set up a hotline Tuesday evening specifically for Fred Fuller customers in imminent danger of running out of oil.
Nearly 1,100 consumers flooded the hotline with calls as of 9:30 yesterday morning, according to the governor's spokesman. Marc Goldberg said nearly all those calling the hotline reported having had less than a quarter of a tank of heating oil, with the vast majority having only an eighth of a tank of heating oil or less remaining, and many were without heat altogether. He concurred with Sculley's statement that Fuller customers are the only ones facing the problem and that there is no shortage in the supply of heating oil.
The hotline number is 227-0002.
Boffetti said that while the rate at which people were calling the hotline was subsiding, the number of calls "is still unacceptable, particularly because of the number of people who are without fuel." He said that the hotline was making it possible for Fred Fuller customers to reach someone to report they were getting low on oil while technicians work to get firm's in-house phone system fixed. Boffetti said the telephone troubles appeared to be due to a "data corruption problem" in the company's own system and not because of any trouble with Fairpoint's system.
Leeming said Fred Fuller is working with Homeland Security to provide a back-up cellphone coverage plan for its office staff, which will be put into place should landlines crash again.
The state attorney general's office has ask for documents from Fuller Oil supporting its claims to have enough money to support all the pre-buy orders sold this winter, as well as those being sold for next winter. Boffetti said that while he has concerns that Fuller was collecting money for future sales when it couldn't meet current obligations, the biggest priority the AG's office has right now is to see that the company "is responding to an emergency situation of getting heat to the people who need it."
Leeming did not respond directly to the financial issues raised by Boffetti, but he did say that Fred Fuller representatives had met with Boffetti and Leeming assured that Fuller would address whatever concerns Boffetti has.
The weather so far this winter has been noticeably — though not drastically — colder than usual, according to statistics.
Stafford said that measured in degree days this winter has so far been 5 percent colder than the 30-year average, or 10 percent colder than last winter, which was milder than normal.
Sprague Energy and Irving Oil are the major suppliers for most of the state's fuel oil dealers, according to Sculley. Both have giant terminals in the Portsmouth area, where tanks that hold tens of millions of gallons of oil are supplied by ocean-going barges and tankers.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 01:44

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