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Clairmont admits to 3 Laconia arsons, sentenced to 1 to 5

SUPERIOR COURT — A former Gilmanton man will serve one to five years in the N.H. State Prison after pleading guilty yesterday to one count of arson in an inhabited structure on Highland Street in Laconia that occurred on January 25.

Jason Clairmont, 37, was also sentenced to 3 1/2 to seven years in prison for each of two cars fires — one on September 4, 2013 outside the Funky Monkey night club and one on January 25 on the corner of Bowman and Academy Streets in Laconia. Both of those sentences were suspended pending good behavior.

He was credited with 169 days of time served for the occupied structure fire only.

In her offer of proof, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen said Clairmont admitted to accidentally starting all three fires and on both nights the police were able to obtain private video footage showing him at or near the scene of each fire.

Guldbrandsen also said that aside from some grainy footage and Clairmont's own admission that he was in the areas of the fires the state's case was largely circumstantial.

The first fire occurred outside the Funky Monkey and the victim reported to police that someone had burned the top of her Volkswagen convertible. Judge Larry Smukler ordered Clairmont to pay $2,659 in restitution to her. The 3 1/2 to seven year sentence was suspended.

The next two fires occurred on January 25 within one-half hour of each other.

The first was a car fire on Bowman Street that Clairmont said he may have accidentally set at 2 a.m. when he dropped an ash into the car through a partially open window.

Guldbransen he told police that he tried to put it out but couldn't because the doors were locked, however firefighters would testify that the windows to the car were up and the doors were unlocked when they arrived.

Smulker ordered Clairmont to pay $18,356 in restitution to the owner of the car. The 3 1/2 to 7 year sentence was suspended.

The second fire of January 25 was reported a half-hour later and involved some lattice work in the front of a porch at 91 Highland Street. Clairmont told police that he could have accidentally set it when he tried to use the lattice as a wind block so he could light a cigarette.

Guldbrandsen told the judge that firefighters would testify that they tried to simulate the fire and that they had to hold a lighter on the lattice for 40 seconds before it caught fire.

Clairmont will serve one to five years for that fire. Smukler ordered him to pay $250 in restitution to the homeowner.

The suspended sentences — a total of 7 to 15 years — can be brought forward again within the next 10 years which Guldbrandsen said is a considerable amount of time hanging over Clairmont's head should he violate any rules of probation or parole upon his release.

Clairmont also agreed to participate in counseling while in prison as a condition of his plea bargain.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 12:13

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At just 108, LHS's Class of 2014 was smallest in memory

LACONIA — In June, the graduating class from Laconia High School numbered just 108, the fewest in current memory, perhaps the fewest ever and, for the first time, fewer than the 119 graduates of Gilford High School.

"This has been a small class," said Superintendent Terri Forsten. However, she suggested that the number of graduates was skewed by several factors. She said that "four or five" members of the class of 2014 graduated in January rather than June and another "four or five" are returning in the fall with plans to obtain their diplomas. Another 15, Forsten counted among the graduates of the Laconia Academy, the adult education program offered by the School District.

Nevertheless, Forsten acknowledged "this was still a relatively small class in keeping with the trend we've seen during the past five years."

During the 10 years between 1994 and 2004 enrollment in each grade hovered around 200 and total enrollment from kindergarten to 12th grade was approximately 2,600. Since then total enrollment in the district has shrunk by approximately a fifth, with about half the decline occurring since the 2009-2010 school year.

The falling school enrollment reflects the sluggish growth and rapid aging of the city's population. Between 2000 and 2010, Laconia was the only municipality in Belknap County where the population decreased while the numbers of those under the age of 18 fell from 3,663 to 3,252, a drop of 11.2-percent, and slipped from 22-percent to 20-percent of the total population of the city.

Forsten anticipated the number of graduates to recover with the class of 2015, in which there are some 175 enrolled, but noted that the classes of 2016 and 2017 both number little more than 150 at this time.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 12:01

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Bittersweet the enemy around Perley Pond

LACONIA — Despite the oppressive heat and predicted storms, a team from the Planning Department, Conservation Commission and Summer Youth Employment Program of the New Hampshire Lakes Association yesterday began tackling the infestation of oriental bittersweet threatening the trees that encircle the Perley Pond conservation area, off North Main Street.

Scott McPhee, the conservation technician of the Planning Department, and Dean Anson, chairman of the Conservation Commission, organized the undertaking while Deb Williams enlisted the youngsters, who spend most of the summer at boat launches helping to ensure that vessels do not carry invasive species, primarily milfoil, from lake to lake.

Oriental bittersweet is a woody vine capable of climbing to heights of 70 feet. The vines wrap themselves tightly around the trunks of trees, which ultimately die from the constriction. Unlike its cousin, American bittersweet, the oriental variety is listed as an invasive species, whose proliferation threatens native species and natural habitats. It is among the most common invasive species in New Hampshire, where it thrives throughout the state. The state prohibits the sale, transport, propagation and transplantation of Oriental bittersweet.

Both Oriental and American bittersweet produce waxy, orange berries that burst from pale yellow seedcases as they ripen in the autumn. However, while the berries of American bittersweet are clustered at the end of a branch those of the Oriental bittersweet are strung evenly along the stem.

The plant was introduced from Japan in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the construction of railroads was in full swing, and planted alongside the tracks to forestall erosion. From the railroads bittersweet spread to gardens and soon spread to virtually every habitat. Bittersweet may grow from seeds, which are easily and widely dispersed, or from its root system.

McPhee, who supervised the operation at Perley Pond, said that the aim was to harvest the vines before the berries emerged, otherwise the seeds would be spread to propagate new plants. The boys and girls pulled the young vines out of the trees around the pond and uprooted the plants. Meanwhile, he and Anson clipped or sawed the more mature vines that had wound themselves around the trees and climbed nearly to their tops. Severed from their roots, the vines will eventually wither and die. Then they dig up the root system from which the vines sprung.

The team filled a half-dozen plastic construction bags with cuttings and roots. McPhee said that the Department of Public Works and Waste Management, Inc. have agreed to burn the debris.

McPhee said that Oriental bittersweet is common throughout the city and, because it is so prolific, encouraged property owners to remove it before it spreads and matures.

CAPTION: The team working to rid Perley Pond of invasive Oriental bittersweet included, from left, Scott McPhee of the Planning Department, Dean Anson, chairman of the Conservation Commission, Hillary May, vice-chair of the Conservation Commission, Katherine Barbarian, Susan Oehlschlaeger-Hildreth, a science teacher at Laconia Middle School, Logan Cavette, Kyle McCoy, Devi Dhakal, Trevor Blake and Deb Williams. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 11:39

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Tilton's Market Basket all but closed by employee protest

TILTON — At first glance, the entrance to the Market Basket grocery store here looked yesterday a little like a farmer's market. Canopies lined the long entrance road and people gathered under them sitting in chairs, drinking water, and in one case, cooking over a grill.

A closer looks revealed a grass roots demonstration by Market Basket employees and their families held at the encouragement of local store Director Mike LeClair to protested the ouster of former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas by the partially family-populated Market Basket Board of Directors.

Arthur T. is known throughout the company as a boss who cared for and took care of his employees. Many of those who were in Tilton yesterday are multi-year employees of Market Basket who said they trusted him with their livelihoods.

LeClair, a 25-year employee, said yesterday that the event that pushed him over the top occurred Tuesday when a delivery truck sent by new Market Basket Co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch was accompanied by what he described as a military-type private security company and their statement to him that "trust and acceptance are earned and cannot be imposed."

"What did they think my employees were going to do," he said standing in front of the nearly empty store. "For the most part, they're a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old kids."

"Come get the perishable truck you sent that's at the dock, unloaded...It will rot before we unload it," he said in a Facebook post.

LeClair and his 330 employees are part of something rarely seen anymore in private sector America — a push back against what they see as a hostile take over of the company that employs them.

The story of the Demoulas family is a long and ofter contentious one. According to multiple sources including the Boston Globe, Funding Universe.com. and the New York Times, the company was founded by Athansios "Arthur" Demoulas in 1917 as a single family store.

The couple had two sons, Mike and George, who both worked at the store and bought out their parents in 1954. Both boys married and each had offspring named Arthur — Arthur T. from Mike's side and Arthur S. is from George's side of the family.

After George died suddenly while vacationing in Greece in 1971, Mike continued to operate the stores, gradually expanding to where he had two supermarket chains — the original one called DeMoulas Super Market and later Market Basket — created to circumvent a Massachusetts law that said one supermarket chain could only have a fixed number of liquor licenses.

George's widow, Evanthea and their children continued to own one half of the shares but Mike continued to operate the business. In 1980, Mike had George's widow removed from the Board of Directors creating a family rift that has continued to this day.

George's side of the family through Arthur S. contended that Mike's side of the family, represented by Arthur T., sold some of their side of the family's stock without their knowledge.

The Demoulas family hit the courts in 1990, litigating six lawsuits that stretched over seven years. The Boston Globe referred to the suits as the "the legal Full Employment Act."

The pivotal ruling came in 1994 when Massachusetts judge Nancy Lopez ruled that Arthur T.'s side of the family must return the stock valued at about a half a billion dollars to Arthur S.'s side, giving Arthur S.'s side 51-percent of the stock.

Both sides of the family have two seats on the Board of Directors with three seats belonging to non-family members. Arthur S. has as seat while Arthur T. does not.

On June 23, the board met and fired Arthur T. as CEO — even though he still personally controls about 14-percent of the Market Basket stock.

As word of Arthur T.'s dismissal traveled through the company this past weekend seven top executives demanded his return. They were fired by the new co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch.

In the only statement issued by Arthur T. since his removal as CEO, on Monday he asked the new CEOs to rehire the fired employees.

Employees in stores throughout Massachusetts began holding demonstrations for the return of Arthur T. and the fired executives and yesterday that groundswell reached Tilton.

Every employee who was asked said they just wanted "Artie T." (Arthur T. Demoulas) returned to the company as it CEO.

Inside the store, the employees spelled "ARTIE T" in the empty produce sections using Styrofoam containers that normally would have been filled with vegetables.

With a few exceptions, the meat and produce cases were empty. Employees continued to stock the shelves with dry goods while they last and there were cashiers and floor clerks to assist the few customers who were shopping.

Only the goods that come from outside vendors are being stocked in Market Basket's shelves.

Joe Linehan is the front-end manager and has worked for Market Basket for 11 years. He was on the job yesterday and said his crew was doing what they need to do to take care of their customers.

He said normally on a Wednesday morning, there would be 10 cashiers working. Yesterday there was one.

Customers loyal to the store, LeClair, and his employees — most of whom are local people — brought coffee, water and food to the demonstrating employees yesterday. Many customers refused to enter the store and came to the parking lot only to show moral support.

Those who did enter the store were greeted by Market Basket employees who said they are still dedicated to giving their customers the best possible service they can.

Dennis Warner has worked at Market Basket for 31 years. As a former store manager, he is now legally blind but said when he tried to resign, the company found him a job he could do.

"I got a call," he said, saying it was Artie's T. top executives asking him what they could do to held keep him as an employees.

"He supported me when I needed it and now I'll support him," Warner said.


CAPTIONS: "ARTIE T. is spelled out in an empty fish case at Market Basket in Tilton.

Employees and their families demonstrate against the recent ouster of former Market Basket CEO ARthur T. Demoulas and a number of his top executives.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 11:26

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