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Proposed fee of $125 to keep chickens in Laconia challenged as too expensive

LACONIA — Potential chicken owners will have to wait at least a month before the Zoning Board of Adjustment decides whether or not to pass on to the City Council for approval a zoning amendment that would allow the birds to be kept in areas of the city where they are currently prohibited.

After holding its first public hearing in City Hall last night, the ZBA asked Planning Director Shanna Saunders to include language in the proposed chicken ordinance that address regulations about keeping chickens in so-called cluster developments.

The next public hearing is scheduled for October 21.

Karen and Tom Barker were the only city residents who attended last night's hearing.

Karen Barker said the primary concern with the ordinance as written is the proposed $125 fee for a special exception to the zoning ordinance for all wannabe chicken owners.

Calling $125 a "burdensome charge," Barker said she thinks dogs are more annoying to neighbors than chickens and it's only $7 annually to register a dog.

Barker said she agrees with the ZBA that the town should know where the chickens are and if the coops satisfy setback requirements and shoreline protection provisions, but she said the fee could be too much.

"One-hundred twenty-five dollars could signify someone who could afford to keep chickens," said Saunders, defending the proposed application fee, adding that the Zoning Task Force spoke extensively about the affordability of keeping chickens.

ZBA member Kate Geraci noted it would take a lot of eggs to compensate for a $125 special exemption fee. The board discussed a fee-waiver process and Saunders said she would look into it and report back.

Member Suzanne Perley said the $125 fee comes as part of the application for all special exemptions that go before the ZBA and anyone who wants to keep chickens will need a special exemption.

If the zoning amendment passes, people who live in residential single-family (RS) areas, residential general areas (RG), and shorefront residential areas (SFR) can keep chickens. The current ordinance essentially restricts them from the most densely populated parts of the city.

Saunders said she has seen a number of special exception requests for chickens come before the ZBA and the board decided to look at an amended ordinance before granting any special exceptions. Right now, chickens are included in the agriculture zoning ordinances but Saunders said, for now, only chickens are being discussed.

Should the ordinance pass the ZBA, which Saunders said is the operative board because it's the one that has fielded all the chicken requests, it would need to be approved by the City Council.

When asked if the Planning Board also has to review and approve the ordinance should it be approved by the ZBA, Saunders said the city is seeking a legal opinion about the Planning Board's role.

As written, the amended ordinance says a lot in a residential area is limited to five chickens — no roosters — and the coop must be at least 20 feet from the property line and 10 feet from the primary residence.

People who own chickens may not sell their eggs or chickens but can give them away. No slaughtering in the city would be allowed.

Chickens may not be kept in front yards and all chickens shall be kept in appropriate coops high enough to prevent the chickens from flying away. The coops must also be constructed so that wild animals can't get in and the chickens are protected from the elements.

Feed must be kept secure and no more than three cubic yards of chicken manure can be kept on the property.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 02:12

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Divided Alton School Board rejects Common Core

ALTON — The School Board last night rejected the Common Core State Standards Initiative by a three-to-two vote, but apart from thumbing their noses at the federal government and state Department of Education and reaffirming their belief in local control of schools, the impact of their decision remains obscure.

Terri Noyes, vice-chairman of the board, Krista Argiropolis and Carlos Martinez voted to reject Common Core, while chairman Sandy Wyatt and Stephen Miller favored adopting the new program.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is being put forth by the U.S. Department of Education and a consortium of states and was adopted by the New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) three years ago, sets standards for measuring mastery of math and English language arts/literacy curriculum at each grade level that emphasize critical thinking and problem solving and are meant to better prepare students for success. New Hampshire is one of 45 states which has adopted the Common Core standards which are being incorporated into classroom teaching in advance of new nationwide assessment tests which students are scheduled to take in the spring of 2015.

"We showed that our community has real concerns," declared State Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton), who is married to Martinez, after the vote. As for the practical implications of the vote, she said "who knows?"

Noting that officials of the New Hampshire Department of Education could not answer basic questions about the program, Cormier claimed "they're making it up as they go along" and asked "why should we adopt something when we don't have all the answers?"

Opening the discussion on the issue, Carol Locke, speaking as an Alton resident and principal of Gilmanton School, began by correcting claims that a third of the teachers in Gilmanton left the school rather than teach to the Common Core standards, which were made at a board meeting. In fact, she said only three teachers left, two for teaching positions closer to their homes and a librarian who retired.

Suggestions that teachers reacted against Common Core, Locke insisted "are simply not true," adding "they really don't have concerns." The program is designed to raise standards, she continued. "It's not a bad thing to bring our education up to a higher standard."
Richard Kirby, who teaches sixth grade English and mathematics at Alton Central School, told the board that the Alton Teachers Association welcomes Common Core. "It offers new challenges to students to become problem solvers, critical thinker and technologically literate," he said. "It raises the bar for grade levels and individuals."

Denying the federal government has a legitimate role in elementary and secondary education, Cormier urged the board to "stay true to local education. Parents know best what is good for their children. Local committees know best," she said. She warned against what she called the "propaganda" of expecting all students to perform to the same standards. "Nobody is the same," she said. Likewise, she insisted "we don't learn through assessments."

"Common Core is a big mistake," Cormier declared. "I hope we have some backbone here tonight."

Locke countered that Cormier misrepresented the program. "Assessment is just a tool," she said, explaining that it does not displace learning in the classroom. Moreover, she reminded the board that Common Core is "not that different from the state standards we have now."

Voicing the state motto "live free or die," a woman asked "why would we want to take federal money? Once you let the government in," she continued, "you can't get rid of it. It gets bigger and bigger."

"There's a lot more to it than just what happens in the classroom," said Cormier, who said that the program includes "data mining," which invades the privacy of "pre-schoolers to 20-year-olds. It's a mammoth step towards federalizing the curriculum."

Superintendent William Lander assured the board that "there is no mining of data" and the privacy of students is protected by both federal and state statutes. Expressing his support for Common Core, he said that much time and effort had been invested in designing the curriculum to fit the program, which he would not want to see undone.

Nevertheless, Cormier struck a chord with Noyes who said "I have a fear of losing local control, a large fear. I don't want the federal government telling us how many kids we can have in a classroom."
Argiropolis sounded the same note, charging that "the DOE is eroding local control with all this top-down stuff."

Miller said that he was "fully in favor of Common Core" and wondered why few have spoken against it.

"I won't vote for Common Core," Martinez interrupted, snapping "how's that for taking a stand?"

Miller pointed out that it has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. "We can't develop a standard to compete with Common Core," he said, asking "what will happen if Prospect Mountain applies Common Core? Will that create a remedial situation?"

"This is not a political issue," Miller remarked. "It's an education issue." He said that students at Alton Central School performed below the state average on standardized tests and stressed "in as much as standards are being raised, we have to keep pace."

After the meeting Kirby said that despite the vote of the board, beginning in 2015 his students will have to take the new test — the Smarter Balanced Assessment — which is formatted to measure their progress against the Common Core standards.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 01:55

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Franklin man arrested for DWI was on parole for 1981 murder conviction

NORTHFIELD — A Franklin man who was convicted of murder in 1981 is back in prison tonight after being arrested by local police last Thursday for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest.

Northfield Police said Todd Johnson, 53, of 90 South Main St. Apt. A in Franklin allegedly tried to buy beer at the Big Apple in Tilton but was turned away by the clerk who felt he appeared "disoriented."

The clerk gave police a description of the car Johnson was driving and Northfield Police spotted it on Concord Road at 11:58 a.m.

Police said Johnson appeared disoriented and seemingly impaired. They said he was uncooperative with police and was allegedly telling them he wanted to hurt himself. Johnson is said to have mentioned he had guns at home.

Northfield Police took Johnson to Franklin Regional Hospital to rule out any medical or mental health issues. Police said his blood alcohol levels were nearly three times the legal driving level.

Police learned Johnson was on parole for a homicide he committed in 1980 in Andover, N.H.

Department of Corrections Spokesman Jeff Lyons said Johnson was convicted of murder in 1981 in Merrimack County Superior Court and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He was just 21 at the time.

He said Johnson was paroled on February 28, 1997 but was returned to prison on April 10, 1998 where he remained until June 7, 2000. Lyons said he has been on parole since then but because of last week's encounter with police has been returned to prison on a "technical parole violation."

Lyons said he didn't have any details of the homicide other than to say it occurred in Andover.

Northfield Police said the Franklin Police are investigating Johnson's claims of having guns at his house.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 02:34

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Manville to serve as Center Harbor fire chief for probationary period

CENTER HARBOR — The Board of Selectmen has appointed Leon Manville as the permanent, part-time fire chief and will either confirm its decision or begin a formal search for a replacement in January, after he completes a six-month probationary period.

Manville was named interim chief on the sudden resignation of John Schlemmer in July. A resident of Center Harbor, he began his career in the fire service in 1985 and served as chief in his hometown between 1994 and 1998. Selectmen Harry Viens said that Manville has performed well after stepping in at short notice and managing the department during the busy summer season.

Last month the selectmen met with Don Jutton of Municipal Resources, Inc. in Meredith, who recommended they convene a search committee, which would include professional firefighters, to select a chief to succeed Schlemmer. However, the board rejected the recommendation for want of sufficient funds.

Manville will work 28 hours per week according to the same job description that applied to Schlemmer, Viens explained. He said that to meet Jutton's suggestion that members of the Fire Department participate in the hiring process, firefighters will be asked to submit anonymous evaluations of Manville's performance in December, prior to the end his probationary period.

When Schlemmer resigned, members of the department urged the Selectboard to resolve their differences with him. However, when the selectmen learned that Schlemmer had retained an attorney, efforts at reconciliation were abandoned.

In a statement released to press, Schlemmer claimed that while he needed to work 40 hours per week to fulfill the responsibilities of his job description, he was only compensated for 28 hours and that when he sought to address the issue he was instructed to limit his work hours to 28.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 01:59

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