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City Council gives final approval of School District's borrowing of $1.8 million

LACONIA — The City Council this week authorized the School District to borrow $1,828,000 in the form of a federal Qualified Zone Academy Bond, or QZAB, the proceeds of which will be applied to renovations and improvements at Laconia High School.

The vote came after a legally required public hearing was opened and closed without anyone offering testimony. The only dissenting vote came from Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) who did not speak to the issue but had registered her objections before the measure passed at a first reading on Oct. 28.

The bond, which has a term of 23 years and bears no interest, will be repaid in annual payments of $78,260 beginning in 2015. School Superintendent Terri Forsten assured the council that the debt service would be defrayed with funds from the School District's annual operating budgets. In addition, funding requires a local match of 10 percent in cash or in-kind, which Ed Emond, business administrator of the School District would be met with contributions to the capital campaign initially launched to fund the expansion and renovation of the Huot Regional Technical Education Center and reconfiguration of the high school playing fields.

The funds will be used to address health and safety issues, including installation of a sprinkler system and air handlers as well as removing asbestos and radon gas. If there are sufficient funds remaining the electrical systems in most classrooms would be upgraded, the bleachers in the gymnasium brought up to code, emergency lighting replaced with LED units and the main entrance secured.

The QZAB is the second the School District has accepted in four years. Earlier the district borrowed $6.5 million as part of the $16.8-million financing package to undertake major improvements at the high school and Huot Center.

Laconia was the only school district in the state to express interest in the QZAB, which is awarded by the federal government and administered by the New Hampshire Department of Education. To qualify more than 35 percent of the students enrolled in the district must be eligible for free or reduced lunch, a threshold Laconia, where 53 percent of students qualify, easily exceeds.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 01:41

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Reference to girl's self mutilation throws twist into Grant trial

LACONIA — The step-father of a 17-year-old girl who alleges she was digitally raped by a local band leader in 2006 testified yesterday that he saw the man put a portion of his hand down the back of the girl's pants.

The step-father, an environmental scientist from California, said the entire incident lasted about five seconds and at the time he thought he saw Eric Grant give the girl a "wedgie".

"It didn't appear he was sticking it (his hand) down very far because I assumed he was giving her a wedgie," he said under cross-examination by Grant's attorney Emily McLaughlin.

"I thought it was innocent joking around," he said under intense scrutiny from McLaughlin who pressed him hard about what he actually saw as opposed to what he thought he saw.

Grant has been accused of aggravated felonious sexual assault, or rape, by his former niece by marriage when the girl was 10-years-old. At the time, Grant was married to the girl's mother's sister. Grant and the mother have since divorced. The girl and her family were visiting Grant's Gilford home for a New Year's Eve party when the alleged assault happened.

The alleged victim made her allegations to her therapist in April 2011, triggering a criminal investigation by both California and the Belknap County Sheriffs Department. Grant has maintained his innocence since the day he was accused.

The girl's step-father is the third prosecution witness in as many days during a trial that has been getting increasing more tense — especially between opposing counsel. In addition, yesterday, nearly 15 Grant supporters were in the Belknap County Superior Courtroom — a few more than where there Tuesday for the first day of trial.

In a last-minute motions hearing yesterday afternoon, held outside the earshot of the jury, Asst. Belknap County Prosecutor Carley Ahern and McLaughlin battled over whether or not evidence of self-mutilating on the part of the girl could be presented to the jury. During her testimony on Tuesday, the alleged victim said, in a small hushed voice, that she began cutting herself some years after the incident in Gilford.

McLaughlin immediately objected and her, Ahern and Judge James O'Neill met in a "side-bar" or at the bench which is out of earshot of the jury. Ahern didn't pursue the self-mutilation testimony and moved to another topic.

On Wednesday, the girl's mother testified that she had sent her daughter to see a therapist in 2011 for marijuana use after telling the girl's psychiatrist about it. She said the psychiatrist recommended a therapist.

Yesterday, when McLaughlin tried to enter two photographs into evidence that, on two separate occasions since the alleged rape purported to show Grant and his family spending happy times with the girl and her family during two separate vacations (no one except the attorneys have seen the photographs), Ahern objected.

During yesterday's motion hearing, O'Neill questioned Ahern about why she didn't pursue her inquiry about self-mutilation after he overruled or denied McLaughlin's objection.

"My recollection is that you were not barred (from pursuing it further)," he said.

He also asked Ahern what connection there is between the photo and the self-mutilation.

Ahern said she thought that when the judge asked the girl if she was through with her statement, he meant that she could no longer pursue that line of questioning.

She argued further the photos were misleading because they don't show the totality of the mental torment girl was experiencing since her alleged rape in 2006 and they represent two moments in time and nothing more. The photos are being used to jog the memories of the three prosecution witnesses but, at this point, nothing more.

McLaughlin said the photos are evidence that there was no animosity between her client and the girl and are not overly prejudicial. If admitted into evidence, the jury can see them.

McLaughlin also argued that evidence of self-mutilation and a visit to a psychiatrist were never given to her during the discovery process despite her request for all medical transcripts, notes, and other documents related to the alleged assault.

She said Ahern shouldn't be allowed to use the self-mutilation or the psychiatrist because when she heard about it during direct examination, it was the first she heard of it.

McLaughin said the state is obligated to the court and to her client to continue to investigate a case and to disclose any evidence it uncovers. She described the new evidence as "undiscovered, non-disclosed and not supported by any documentation."

About the only consistency so far in the three days of testimony is that the girl, her mother, and her step-father all testified that since the alleged assault — the girl has tried to keep her distance from Grant. All three remember being at the party in Gilford, however only the step-father recalls seeing Grant touch the alleged victim. All three remember a local couple stopping by for a brief visit.

All three remember a fight between Grant and his then wife that caused Grant to leave the home. McLaughlin said it was the fight that traumatized the girl while Ahern said it was the rape.

In her testimony Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the girl testified the assault lasted "two minutes".  Her step-father, who said he was not drinking alcohol that night, testified that had he seen an obvious sexual assault he would have called the police.

The alleged victim also testified that she was bleeding after the alleged assault and that she was wearing a pair of pink pajamas. Neither the mother or the step-mother remembered what the girl was wearing that night but a video introduced into evidence shows the girl wearing jeans and a pink jacket during some fireworks at some point in the evening.

Neither mother nor step-father remembered seeing any bloody pajama bottoms or underwear. The mother testified Wednesday she did the family laundry at the time.

O'Neill has said he would review the motions and would issue his ruling about the photograph and the self-mutilation by noon Monday. Both lawyer are being given an opportunity to appear late Monday afternoon to verbally re-address his ruling.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 01:37

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Mooneys tell court that law that puts them between warring Briarcrest Estates factions needs to be clarified

BRIARCREST — In the latest round of the tussle over the future of Briarcrest Estates, its owners have asked the Belknap County Superior Court to clarify the state statute bearing on the sale of manufactured housing parks.
Attorney Paul Fitzgerald, representing the owners, Mark and Ruth Mooney of Belmont, claims that the ambiguity of the law imposes contradictory duties on his clients, putting them at risk of significant financial penalties.
In July, the Mooneys accepted an offer from Hometown America Corporation of Chicago to purchase the park for $10 million. In accord with a state law entitling park tenants to make a counteroffer and requiring park owners to bargain in good faith, a group of residents, with encouragement and assistance from ROC-NH, a program of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, incorporated as the Lakemont Cooperative and matched the $10 million offer.
In response, the Mooneys asked the Belknap County Superior Court to approve the sale of the park to Hometown America. Attorney John Giere, representing the Mooneys, claimed that approving the transaction would be in keeping with the statute, which is is intended to safeguard the best interests of tenants, most of whom oppose cooperative ownership of the park. Last week a majority of tenants filed a petition with the court opposing the sale of the park to the cooperative.
The Lakemont Cooperative, represented by Attorney Robert Shepherd of Nashua, asked the court to dismiss the Mooneys' petition. Shepherd told the court that as the owners of the park the Mooneys were in no position to represent the interests of its residents. Shepherd reminded the court that the statute does not prescribe that the cooperative include a specific number or percentage of tenants to make an offer and pursue the transaction.
In objecting to the cooperative's petition to dismiss, Fitzgerald cites the statute, which requires that upon receiving an offer to purchase, park owners must "consider any offer received from the tenants or a tenants' association, if any, and the owner shall negotiate in good faith with the tenants concerning a potential purchase." Failure to comply carries a liability to the tenants of $10,000 or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is greater.
Fitzgerald argues that the term "tenants" and "tenants association," which are nowhere defined, are ambiguous, but can only reasonably taken to refer to a majority of the tenants. Consequently, he concludes that the Mooneys "owe(s) conflicting duties of good faith" to both the cooperative and the majority and could face a liability of $1 million to either. Contrary to Shepherd's suggestion that the Mooneys have no grounds for petitioning the court, Fitzgerald insists that the liability affords them standing. He cited a judge, who in another case, remarked that "The law does not always say to the prospective victim that the only way to determine whether the suspect is a mushroom or a toadstool is to eat it."
Fitzgerald asked the court to resolve the ambiguity of the statute and in the meantime to deny the cooperative's motion to dismiss the case along with its requests to order that the law is not ambiguous and the cooperative does not require a majority. And finally to refrain from ordering the Mooneys to negotiate with the cooperative until the case resolved.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 01:17

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Gilford Boy Scouts honor 2 leaders for 69 total years of service

GILFORD — After serving a total of 69 years and helping 53 young men reach the level Eagle Scout, Carl Gebhardt and Gary Doucette are retiring from leadership of Daniel Webster Council Boy Scout Troop 243.

The two were feted Wednesday night in a Court of Honor — ostensibly called to recognize some local scouts for their achievements — and it really was a surprise.

"They're probably not happy we're making a fuss about it," said new Scout Master Kurt Webber to the nearly 100 scouts, former scouts, parents, family and friends who gather in the basement of the Gilford Community Church for a potluck supper in their honor.

Gebhardt spent 43 years as an adult leader, 32 of them with Troop 243 in Gilford. He earned his own Eagle Scout ranking in 1956. Both of his sons, Jim and Ken, are Eagle Scouts.

He's been involved in scouting in New Jersey, Missouri and served as Scout Master in Gilford for the past 28 years. During his time, 30 boys have earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

Doucette has been Troup 243's director, treasurer and trainer for 19 years and earned his Eagle Scout rank in 1966. Both his sons, Derek and Dan, are Eagle Scouts. During his time, 23 boys have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

Both men are retired. Gebhardt said he will continue to work in scouting in Gilford. He enjoys hiking and riding his bicycle. Doucette said he's not going any where either but will have more time to enjoy hiking, hunting and fishing.

Each was presented with a Norman Rockwell painting commemorating scouting and a proclamation of thanks from the Gilford Board of Selectmen.

After the ceremony, both said this was a good time to make the transition to a new leadership team because there are good adult leaders with a great deal of experience in Gilford right now.

"I wish I could remember the number of boys who have come and gone," said Gebhardt wistfully.

When asked what one piece of advice they would give to the next leader, Kurt Webber, each said he should be aware that boys are a lot busier now with more structured free time activities than they were in the past with organizations like band, school athletics, and family trips.
"Be flexible," Doucette said, saying many of the boys will come and go and then return again when their schedules permit.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 01:11

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