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Judge rules prosecution failed to connect woman to Barnstead marijuana plants

LACONIA — Judge Jim Carroll this week dismissed a case against an alleged Barnstead marijuana grower after her attorney successfully argued that the prosecution couldn't connected her to the pot found in a vacant apartment.

Ashley Wittham, 27, of Northwood, was one of two people charged by the Belknap County Sheriff's Department with one count of possession of marijuana and one felony count of manufacturing marijuana after two deputies found pot plants and growing equipment in a 10 Barnstead Drive apartment the two formerly occupied.

The deputies were there to followup on an eviction notice issued to Wittham and her roommate David McNeil, 29, also of Northwood.

The sheriff's found the home had been vacated.

According to testimony offered in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division Monday by one of the sheriff's office deputies during her probable cause hearing, the two found the landlady and a locksmith waiting for them.

Testimony indicated they knocked and got no answer. They announced themselves and entered to make sure no one was there. The testifying deputy said they cleared one side of the house but when the went into the right side of they found a closed closet door.

When they checked the closet to make sure no one was in there, they found seven marijuana plants each about three feet tall and some growing equipment along with fertilizer, books about growing marijuana and other items consistent with pot manufacturing.

The sheriff's left a Barnstead officer there to got to the police station and get a search warrant.

Wittham's attorney Stephen Jeffco waived cross examination of the sheriff's deputy and instead made a verbal motion to dismiss the felony manufacturing charge saying the sheriff's department couldn't connect his client to the person who was renting the apartment.

Carroll agreed and dismissed the case saying the sheriff's department never linked Wittham to the marijuana or the apartment.

The case against McNeil was not prosecuted.

Both cases can still be considered by the Belknap County Attorney's Office and presented to a grand jury for possible indictment.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 01:16

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Money for Belmont High football coming from 'Friends', not taxpayers

BELMONT — Superintendent Maria Dreyer clarified for the school board and the voters Tuesday night that Shaker Regional School District's portion of the money to field a cooperative high school football team will come from money raised exclusively by the Friends of Belmont Football.

She said in 2014-2015, the Friends will pay their portion of the two-year agreement directly to the Gilford School District. In 2015-2016 the money will be part of the Shaker Regional School District's budget as a pass-through line item used for accounting purposes only.

The Memorandum of Understand between the two school districts and the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association specifies that the cost to Shaker for the first year of the program is $7,500. So far the Friends of Belmont Football have raised over $10,000, said Eric Shirley, one of the founders of the group.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 01:06

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Responding to complaint that Bike Week is starting late this year, council will allow properly permitted beer tents to open 2 days early

LACONIA — A quirk of the calendar has prompted the City Council to invite the operators of so-called beer tents at Motorcycle Week to apply for special event permits, which will allow them to serve during the two days before the opening of the rally on Saturday, June 14.

Each and every year, Motorcycle Week begins on the second full weekend in June, which most often means that it ends on the third Sunday of June — Father's Day. However, in those years like this one, when June begins on a Sunday, the rally begins rather than ends on Father's Day weekend.

Since many vendors and bikers associate the last day of the rally with Father's Day, confusion arises when the two fail to coincide.

Recently Bill "The Boss" Niland, who owns and operates the Chop Shop Pub in Seabrook and the Beer Garden at the Weirs Beach Drive-In during the rally, wrote to city officials, calling attention to "a serious issue" with the rally. "It has been clear to me that the 'Regular Joe Biker' has no idea that the Laconia Bike Week dates have been changed for this years 91st annual," he wrote. He recalled when the rally last began on Father's Day weekend, in 2008, rally-goers booked rooms for the wrong week and, he claimed, have not returned. "Should this happen again this year," he warned, ""I am in fear that it would be another nail in the coffin to an already declining event."

Niland suggested opening his beer garden, with entertainment, on Thursday and Friday, before the rally begins on Saturday, June 14. "This would at least those who on the wrong week a small taste of Bike Week events so that their vacation not be a total loss," he explained.

Planning Director Shanna Saunders, who chairs the Motorcycle Technical Review Committee/Special Events Review Committee, told the council that the committee approved Niland's request and recommended allowing the operators of beer tents at the Lobster Pound, Looney Bin, Broken Spoke and Marketplace to apply for special events permits to open on Thursday, June 12 and Friday 13. After some discussion, the council agreed and at the same allowed gypsy vendors, who purchase a permit to open on Friday, to operate on Thursday as well at no extra cost.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 01:02

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City Council to hold May 27 hearing on proposal to limit use of primary elections

LACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously voted, on first reading, to amend the City Charter to authorize the City Clerk to declare a primary election unnecessary if no more than two candidates file for any particular office.

A public hearing on the amendment will be held during the next regularly scheduled meeting of the council on Tuesday, May 27. Voters will have the final say in November.

The amendment would also move the filing period for municipal elections, which currently opens on the first Wednesday in June and closes on the following Friday, to August, approximately a month before the primary on the second Tuesday of September.

In addition, the amendment would tighten the requirements for write-in candidates to qualify for a place on the ballot for the municipal election in November. The provision that the two candidates receiving the most votes in the primary are declared the winners and placed on the ballot, would carry a rider stipulating that a person who had not filed a declaration of candidacy and received fewer than 35 write-in votes would not be eligible for a spot on the general election ballot. The rider is intended to ensure that any write-in candidate who earns a place on the general election ballot has demonstrated an intent to serve by mounting a write-in campaign as reflected by polling a minimum number of votes.

The amendment would apply to the primary elections for the mayor and city councilors, seven members of the School Board, whose members serve staggered terms, requiring a primary every year, and three seats on the Police Commission.
Laconia is one of three of the state's 13 cities to conduct municipal primary elections. Both the other two — Manchester and Keene — follow the procedure prescribed by the amendment.

In the eight primary elections between 1997 and 2011 voter turnout has averaged 9 percent. In three of the past eight elections — in 2003, 2009 and 2011 — primary elections were held even though there were not more than two candidates for either mayor or any of the six council seats. Last year when there were three candidates for mayor but no more than two for any of six city council seats the turnout was 6 percent.
Reynolds said that cost of conducting municipal primary elections is approximately $8,600, which does not include about $1,000 for police details at the polling stations at Woodland Heights Elementary School and Laconia Middle School. The cost consists of $3,900 for printing ballots, $1,000 for materials at polling stations and $3,700 in wages of poll workers.
After the public hearing, the City Council will likley order the proposed amendments to be placed on the ballot for the municipal election. The amendment, including any substantive changes made following the public hearing, must be approved by the New Hampshire Secretary of State, Attorney General and Department of Revenue Administration.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 May 2014 12:57

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