More of county's dirty laundry out on the line

LACONA — Belknap County Commissioners clashed again over non-public meeting minutes when they met Wednesday morning with Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) maintaining that the minutes recently released of non-public meetings on July 1, July 15 July 27 are not accurate and are being used to editorialize .
Commissioners Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) and Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) maintained that the minutes, which Taylor keeps, are accurate and said that that it is Burchell's own unwillingness to keep conversations at the meetings confidential which is causing controversies for the county.
Burchell said that he takes issue with the release of the minutes of the July 27 non-public meeting which were still in a draft form and said that he thinks they failed to include information he thought was important and that he should have had the opportunity to challenge before they were released.
He also said that the very detailed minutes of non-public meetings which have been produced lately, including vulgarity, have been described to him by a local political observer as ''laughable".
''There's a reason for that. What is being said is laughable,'' replied Taylor
Commissioners DeVoy and Taylor voted to censure Burchell at a June 4 meeting for leaking information from a non-public meeting held in February while Burchell was serving as chairman of the commission, to Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue regarding Logue's grievance complaint. At that same meeting they also called for an investigation of an alleged leak from a second non-public meeting by a county official to a private citizen who was a topic of at discussion at a non-public meeting.
The identity of the person who had been discussed behind closed doors was revealed yesterday by Gordon Blais of Meredith, who said that it was he who was discussed at that meeting.
He did not say who had told him that he had been the subject of the meeting but Burchell, who has not said explicitly that it was him who told Blais about the meeting, has said that his fellow commissioners 'know bloody well'' who it is.
Blais spoke at Monday's meeting and slammed DeVoy and Taylor for not taking action to oust County Administrator Debra Shackett, whom he said was unqualified and only appointed to the post for her ''political connections".
He told DeVoy he was ''utterly disappointed in you. I feel we have been betrayed'' and said that Taylor, who had authored a long series of letters critical of the previous county commissioners and of Shackett last year before he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the committee, ''has played voters for a bunch of patsies.''
DeVoy said that he had ''never campaigned to get rid of anybody'' and that progress was being made by having commissioners and the Belknap County Convention work together rather than being at odds.
Blais said ''you had a non-public session to talk about me. You can't have non-public sessions about people of the county.''
Burchell said that as far as he was concerned the non-public meeting at which Blais was discussed was not a legal meeting and should not have been held.
The meeting was called to discuss what County Administrator Shackett had said was a real physical threat to county employees which had been made by Blais in a letter and was attended by County Sheriff Craig Wiggin and County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen. Burchell said the alleged threat was ''a red herring'' designed to draw attention away from the charges against Shackett and said that he had protested during the meeting that it was being held in violation of the Right-to-Know law.
Both DeVoy and Taylor disputed Burchell's account of the meeting and Taylor said that Burchell's attitude towards who would determine what should remain confidential was at the heart of the dispute over minutes of closed-door meetings,
DeVoy said that he had defended Blais at the closed door meeting by saying that that he didn't pose a threat and said to Burchell, ''this is happening because you can't keep your mouth shut.''
Taylor said that Blais had a financial interest in what he was he doing. ''You want your wife's job back. You go around and attack us and do not tell the public that your wife resigned from the nursing home under pressure. Why don't you make public both sides of this?''
Blais replied that his wife was a long-time geriatric nurse who had been placed in a position by management in which she was set up for failure.
Taylor asked if it was true that the incident for which she resigned could have led to a criminal prosecution but Blais was stopped short of answering by Burchell, who said that the meeting in question had nothing to do with Blais and was orchestrated by the county sheriff and county administrator.
Blais continued to question Shackett's education and leadership credentials, asking who had paid for her to earn a college degree, to which Shackett replied forcefully, ''I paid it. Every cent.''
In a letter to the editor published in today's Daily Sun, Shackett defends herself against charges made by Blais in a letter from him published Tuesday and says that in a letter sent to the county by Blais he was ''threatening to take up his musket to continue his fight.'' He has been directed by my attorney to stop his slanderous writing. He has been told by two Boards of Commissioners that they find no merit to his accusations. His continued yelling in anger at public meetings is very distracting, rude, and yes, personally scary.''

Woman whose family was displaced by Wingate fire grateful for all the help

LACONIA — A family that lost all of its belongings in a fast-moving apartment building fire on Blueberry Lane on July 28 may have found her family's savior in the form of an area contractor who has recently renovated an apartment.

"Michelle" and her husband have two children who are 16 and 11 and they reached out to Jim French of Jim French Home Improvements, who had listed an apartment in the newspaper.

"He called us first this this morning," she said Tuesday afternoon. "He's willing to work with us on the paperwork and on the first month's rent and security deposit."

"He is a really nice landlord," she said. "Jim has made us the happiest people on earth."

French said yesterday he is working with the family but the process is not yet complete. "I'm trying to do my best," he said.

Michelle lived in one of the apartments that was heavily damaged by a three-alarm fire that officials believe was caused by the careless disposal of smoking materials. The family lost all of its belongings — except a washer and — and she said they have been staying at a local hotel for which the Red Cross paid five days and the Laconia Police Relief Association paid two more.

With the exception of the washer and dryer, she said the only other things that was saved was a football from their apartment signed by New England Patriots running back and special teams receiver Brandon Boldon. She said Boldon signed it at last year's training camp. The family was planning to return to training camp this year in the hopes that quarterback Tom Brady would autograph a football for him but the fire prevented that.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson said the ceiling in the top floor of this family's apartment had collapsed but once the fire was extinguished, two of his firefighters were able to find the football. Told it was the child's prized possession, Erickson said it was nice to see how comforted the boy was when he got his football.

While still shaken by the blaze, Michelle and her husband wanted to thank the many members of the community — most of whom were total strangers — for their kindness and generosity.

She said the fire and police departments have been wonderful to them but her real personal thanks go to a woman she identified as Mrs. P who works at Walgreen's and who gave them a gift card to help with personal hygiene items.

"She gave my kids money so they could each get a few items of clothing," Sarah said.

She said Wingate Village, the owners of the buildings at 103 Blueberry Lane, have also been very helpful. She said they have set up a fund for the families who were permanently displaced. She had special thanks for the company maintenance team members who ran around the building banging on doors until everyone was out of the unit.

She said the New Beginnings family crisis center has been helping her family as have a number of other agencies in the area.

Michelle also said she has a friend named Jessica who is the single parent of three children who is reluctant to ask for help but who is desperately seeking an affordable three-bedroom apartment and some clothing for her children who are a 9-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. Jessica herself wears a medium to large and she is tall.

At the National Night Out event hosted at Wingate Village by the Police Department on Tuesday, a different friend of Jessica's was distributing a flier reiterating the same things Michelle said.

Wingate Village administrative assistant Ann Cochrane said that her agency helped distribute some of the fliers as well. She also said that all security deposits being held by the company for the people who cannot return will be returned to them no later than 30 days.

"There is a process but it can take up to 30 days," she said.

Donations of clothes, furniture, bedding, money and other items are are being accepted at New Beginnings on North Main Street said Cochrane and Wingate Village has distributed a list of agencies that can help the victims.

"These folks are in a bad spot. When people are in a bad spot you should take the time to help them," Cochrane said.
Cochrane added that there are no vacancies at Wingate Village at this time so the permanently displaced families will have to go elsewhere.

As for Michelle, she said that while this is a very trying time for her and her family, the initial help of Wingate Village, the Red Cross, and the fire and police departments have kept her her family safe and together. As for all of the people who came out of the blue to help her and the other families, she said she can only express great gratitude.

"There are so many nice people out there who offered to help us with so many things," she said.

Selectmen okay planting of Japanese cherry tree in Hesky Park; approval for display beneath it still in question

MEREDITH — The Board of Selectmen this week approved the planting of a Japanese cherry tree in Hesky Park to To mark the 110th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth on September 5, 1905 which ended the Russo-Japanese War, pending a review of the final design of the memorial.
The Japanese-American Society of New Hampshire has chosen Meredith among other towns to receive a Japanese cherry tree to commemorate the occasion. Miller Lovett, a member of the Design Committee of the Greater Meredith Program told the board that the tree will be a descendant of those that ring the Tidal Basin and line the Potomac River in Washington, which the Japanese government gave to the United States in 1912 in appreciation of its role in hosting the peace conference and assisting the treaty negotiations.
Lovett presented a sketch indicating that the tree would be planted along a path just north of where the spillway from Mill Falls empties into the lake. The tree, projected to reach a height of 30 feet with a canopy 30 feet around, would be the centerpiece of a small flagstone patio with two rocks, one either side of the tree serving as resting places. An inscribed granite marker explaining the purpose of the memorial would be embedded in the patio.
Lovett told the board that a ceremony dedicating the memorial is scheduled to be held on September 5, which will feature the ringing of church bells marking the day and hour the treaty was signed.
Selectman Michael Pelczar said that while he liked the design of the memorial very much, he thought that the Selectboard should make it clear that it was not setting a precedent that would entitle other organizations to place monuments in the park.
Noting that "quite a large memorial" was proposed, Karen Sticht said "I believe you are setting a precedent" and asked will you be voting? When Nate Torr, the chairman of the board replied "we're still in the process", she countered "it sounds like a done deal."
Selectman Ray Moritz said that when the proposal was first presented on July 6, the board asked for more information, which it has received. "We've had two discussions," he said.
Lovett reminded the board that plans to install the memorial have been set, the ceremony has been scheduled and "we're going with publicity in a week. We're between a rock and a hard place," he remarked.
Without taking a formal vote, the board expressed its unanimous approval of the project, but specified that a final plan, specifying the measurements of the patio and the two stones, be presented to the next meeting of the board on August 17.
Meredith has a unique connection to the Treaty of Portsmouth in the person of Komura Jutaro, the Japanese foreign minister who led his country's delegation in the negotiations. The son of a samurai family, Komura mastered English as a schoolboy and was the most gifted student of his time at the "Kaisei Gakko", which later became Tokyo University. As a student he persuaded the government to establish a scholarship program to enable students to study abroad and in 1875 was among the first group of 10 to come to America, where he enrolled at Harvard Law School.
During his three years of law school, Komura, who had always tended his uncle's farm during the growing season, did the same in Meredith, working on a farm that Lovett said has yet to be identified. Returning to Japan, Komura joined the foreign service, serving in China and Korea before being named ambassador to the United States in 1898 and foreign minister in 1901.
After the Treaty of Portsmouth was concluded, Komura bequeathed $10,000 to the state of New Hampshire to be put to charitable purposes. The Japanese Charitable Fund remains an active charity to this day.