Kelley Teunessen, wife of school board candidate Michael Teunessen, confronts Marshall Bishop during his time at the podium during a candidates' forum in Gilmanton Wednesday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Candidates' forum grows testy over selectmen's race
By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — Opponents of Donald Guarino peppered the candidate for selectman with questions about his past violations of law, including a Feb. 15 arrest for failure to appear in a civil case, during an often-testy candidates' forum at Gilmanton Elementary School Tuesday night.
During the forum, which included prepared statements from a host of candidates for local office, Guarino's supporters also lobbed questions, but these questions were about ongoing litigation between incumbent Selectman Marshall Bishop and the Gilmanton Planning Board.
Kendra Reed challenged Guarino's assertion that he didn't need to discuss his legal troubles.
"I do think it's relevant to ask you specifically. I'd like to know how the townspeople of Gilmanton can trust your judgment with a $3 million municipal budget, regulations and decision making, when you've historically shown a fundamental disregard for state laws and regulations," she said.
Guarino responded that recent news coverage detailed his arrest as the result of a breach of contract ruling over his work as a contractor.
"Kendra, this is all in the paper. Is there a question?" he asked.
Reed said, "As selectman of Gilmanton, how can we trust you to abide by our laws, laws put in place to protect our community and our citizens?"
Guarino said, "I think it's interesting that I tried to address this, and I wasn't going to address it, that you would ask the question. So you've made your statement, so why don't we just leave the statement as it is?
But his critics weren't satisfied.
Reed said, "My question is how can we trust you?"
Guarino said, "There's actually checks and balances to protect against theft, fraud, all the things we're concerned about."
The checks and balances included multiple public officials guarding the public money.
Guarino, who gave a detailed platform for reforming town government, noted that part of his presentation was a way to save money in the town budget.
"I wasn't actually talking about wasting money, like wasting taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit," he said, in a jab at Bishop.
Marshall Bishop operates Gilmanton Winery, and he is in a legal dispute with the Planning Board over his restaurant.
On Thursday, March 16, at 7 p.m., the Zoning Board will resume a public hearing on the Bishops' request for a variance for their restaurant in the rural zone. On Jan. 20, the Planning Board, through attorney Paul Fitzgerald of Wescott Law of Laconia, submitted a "respondent's answer and request for declaratory relief" at the Belknap County Superior Court.
In this document, the Planning Board asserted that the Gilmanton Winery has been operating "a full service restaurant with onsite food preparation without appropriate approvals from the Planning Board."
The Planning Board asserted that a special exception granted to Gilmanton Winery by the Zoning Board "provides that the 'site will be overseen by the Planning Board' and the Petitioners have refused to return to the Planning Board for such oversight and review." The Bishops, through their legal counsel, Bianco Professional Association of Concord, asked the Planning Board to "specify the particular regulations or laws it alleges the Winery has violated and the supporting allegations that would justify forcing the Bishops to begin site plan approval anew."
Critics of Bishop, including Guarino, have asserted that he has cost the town nearly $5,000 due to the litigation.
But Guarino's critics pointed to his record of running afoul of the law.
"This is a very big concern to me. I still don't understand how I should trust you," Reed said.
But a Guarino supporter strode to the microphone to offer a rebuttal of sorts.
Kelley Teunessen said, "How much is your case, even though it's separate from the town, how much is your case costing us taxpayers, as opposed to Marshall Bishop, who was a selectman and knew the ropes?"
Guarino said, "My case is costing the taxpayers of the town of Gilmanton zero."
But Rob Carpenter asked Guarino how the voters can trust him.
Guarino said, "You're actually questioning me when I know what the rules are concerning having a restaurant in the rural district."
Carpenter said, "I'm not talking about that."
"We're talking about laws," Guarino said.
"Show me a law within the town of Gilmanton that I don't respect," he said.
Carpenter said the oath of office requires selectmen to swear to uphold the laws of the state.
On Feb. 15, Donald Guarino was arrested as he turned himself in at the sheriff's office, according to the Belknap County Sheriff's Office.
Rick Watrous, a former legislator who lives with his wife in Concord, said he hired Guarino as a contractor in November 2013 to work on the couple's sunroom and to shore up the foundation, but that much of the work remained uncompleted. In 2015, Watrous won in small claims court. The court ruled that Guarino failed to fulfill the contract. When Guarino failed to appear in court three different times, arrest warrants were issued, the last resulting in his arrest.
Previously, the former Gilmanton selectman ran afoul of the law as a selectman in late 2014. He pleaded guilty Dec. 4, 2014, in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, to a violation level charge of forging a vehicle inspection sticker.
Kelley Teunessen, wife of school board candidate Michael Teunessen, confronted Bishop during his time at the podium to introduce himself to voters. In October 2016, selectmen discussed an incident in which Michael Teunessen was a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and Bishop had come before the ZBA for a variance that Teunessen voted against.
"You talk about taking care of the taxpayers? How can you be a selectman when you're suing the town because of your winery?" Kelley Teunessen said. "You're not working with the town. You're suing the ZBA. You had the nerve to out my husband, Mike Teunessen, trying to get him off ZBA, when he was the only one to question how to do things right. Personally, I do not want somebody like you as my selectman."
Bishop said, "What was the question?"
Teunessen said, "If you would have done everything you were supposed to do, you wouldn't be in this predicament."
Bishop said, "I can't say anything because it's under litigation, but everyone has their opinion."
Guarino and Bishop are running for a three-year seat on the board of selectmen. Voting is Tuesday, March 14.
Incumbent Selectman Marshall Bishop greets voters during a candidates' forum in Gilmanton Wednesday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Sandy Guarino, wife of selectman's candidate Don Guarino, asks questions and challenges incumbent Marshall Bishop during Wednesday's candidates' forum in Gilmanton Wednesday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)