Laconia city clerk disheartened by Right to Know request by state

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — "To be singled out because I feel strongly that electronic poll books would be beneficial to the city of Laconia and other municipalities is a little disheartening," City Clerk Mary Reynolds said Friday.

Reynolds was referring to the decision of the New Hampshire Secretary of State to serve her with an extensive Right-to-Know request , which she believes represents a response to her support of legislation opposed by Secretary of State Bill Gardner to run a pilot program using electronic poll books in three precincts — Manchester, Hooksett and Durham — in the past year's primary and general elections.

Electronic poll books enable voters to swipe their driver's licenses at the polling station, and if their name, address and age matches the information on the checklist they are given a ballot. She said the system has nothing to do with the ballots themselves. After the bill carried the Senate, it failed in the House.

On Nov. 30, the Right-to-Know request was served on both Reynolds and Matt Normand, her counterpart in Manchester, who both openly supported the pilot program. It applies to any and all communications between the city clerks and their staffs relating to electronic poll books, including communications with vendors, particularly LHS Associates of Salem, New Hampshire and KNOWINK of St. Louis, Missouri, advocacy groups, like the New Hampshire Municipal Association, League of Women Voters and America Votes, and state legislators during the 18 months between June 2015 and November 2016.

Both Reynolds and Normand were prominent among those supporting the pilot program. Reynolds said that she fears the action by the Secretary of State may dissuade local officials from advocating or supporting initiatives to change the electoral system that he opposes.

In serving the request, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan explained that earlier this year his office received an "extensive" Right-to-Know request from America Votes, a progressive group championing the right to vote and improve the electoral system. Scanlan told New Hampshire Public Radio his office sought to learn about communications between local officials and advocacy groups like America Votes.

Speaking on the air Friday, Scanlan explained "It's only fair that if this organized group is out there trying to understand communications we had on our end, it's a reasonable request that we understand discussions that were taking place on their end. To the extent that they're arming themselves with information that consists of our communications with others on this process so it can be used against us, potentially, then we just want to make sure that we have a full understanding of the discussions that have taken place as well."

Reynolds, who served as first vice president of the New Hampshire City & Town Clerks Association in 2015, said that in supporting legislation to introduce the pilot program she represented only the city of Laconia and acted with the knowledge of City Manager Scott Myers. She said that although other organizations, including the New Hampshire Municipal Association and America Votes, also supported the bill, she did not act in concert with them. Nor, she said, did she represent the interests of vendors. "I only represented the city," she said, "and spoke with clerks from other municipalities along with senators and representatives expressing support for the bill."

Reynolds said that she will comply with the request "as quickly as we can," by drawing on the resources of information technology personnel as their time allows.

Meanwhile, Reynolds noted that Secretary of State Gardner has evened a committee to study introducing electronic poll books that includes a number of past presidents of the New Hampshire City & Town Clerks Association, but neither she, who is the current president of the association nor Normand, the city clerk in the state's largest city, are members.

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Loon rescues peak in wake of erratic weather

12-17 Loon With Chicks John Rockwood

A loon drifts with chicks on its back. (Photo courtesy of John Rockwood/Loon Preservation Committee)

By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MOULTONBOROUGH — In 2016, the Loon Preservation Committee has embarked on more than twice the number of loon rescues as in past years, the organization reported. This surge in activity partly stemmed from a bout with erratic weather.
But, the weather that played havoc with loon populations wasn't the cold snap afflicting New Hampshire this month. It was a warming pattern that kicked off last winter.
"We're happy to see a more normal winter," said Harry Vogel, senior biologist and executive director of the organization.
"This is the time when the lakes are freezing in, so we're tracking several cases where loons are in danger of being caught," Vogel said.
"We monitor these birds, and if we can safely do so, we go out and try to rescue them," he said.
But loon protectors aren't as anxious about this year's mid-December cold snap and the ensuing subzero temperatures — Laconia hit 4 below zero around 6:15 a.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
"It's actually better than if we have a late cold snap," Vogel said.

"Loons, like other birds, sense the changing of the seasons. When the lakes begin to skim over with ice, that's usually the last straw for the loons," and they migrate to the ocean, Vogel explained. "The vast majority of our loons at this point are on the ocean."
But last winter posed a more difficult scenario.
A warm early winter in 2015-2016 followed by a freeze affected loon migration, as ice formed late at the worst possible time.

"Last year, we had a very bad year for loons being iced in," Vogel said.
A warm winter with lakes open until January followed by a freeze caught the water birds during wing molt, when they weren't as equipped to escape the ice.
"We much prefer a more typical winter like this where we have lakes freezing in, in a more normal pattern," Vogel said.
The New Hampshire Lakes Association explains the life cycle of loons, noting that adult loons leave their offspring behind until flight feathers are long enough to support the chicks' weight. Loon chicks leave their "birth lake" just before it freezes and "won't return to their birth lake until they are approximately 3 or 4 years old, and they won't be able to reproduce until they are 6 or 7."
The Loon Preservation Committee counts 293 pairs of loons in New Hampshire. Recovery of the birds is being slowed down by a combination of stress factors, including encroachment on habitat and outdated lead-based fishing tackle, Vogel said.
"I would characterize 2016 as a good year, not a great year for loons," he said.
"We gained a total of four pairs this year from last year, our population has been growing by about 1 percent per year over the last five years," Vogel said.
Of the 198 chicks hatched throughout the state, nine out of 10 benefited from Loon Preservation Committee management, such as installation of warning signs and rope lines and coordination with dam operators to maintain lake levels, he said.
The Loon Preservation Committee worked with New Hampshire Fish and Game and the New Hampshire Legislature to reduce loon mortality, particularly through passage of Senate Bill 89. Effective June 1, 2016, the law made it illegal to use or sell lead sinkers or lead-headed jigs weighing 1 ounce or less in New Hampshire.
Lead is by far the largest known cause of loon mortality in the state, Vogel noted.
In a population as small as New Hampshire's loon population, any disturbance can endanger nesting pairs.
"The key to maintaining a viable loon population is to keep adult loons alive," Vogel said.
New Hampshire's loon population numbers about a third of the density as seen in areas of Canada with less human impact, he said.
According to its website (http://www.loon.org), the Loon Preservation Committee "has created the most complete and longest-running database of loon populations and productivity that exists anywhere in the world, and conducted the most comprehensive research ever undertaken on contaminants and other challenges facing loons."
Loons are a state-threatened species and are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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Judge orders equipment at Tenney Mountain back to owner

By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A judge has ordered Tenney Mountain Development Group to return heavy machinery and other equipment belonging to a Center Harbor man that they seized, claiming it was collateral for a loan that remains unpaid.

Judge James O'Neill held that Keith Fitzgerald is entitled to the return of his equipment as the defendant has failed to demonstrate a valid security interest, but set some specific conditions, key among them that Fitzgerald post a bond for an amount to be determined by the court.

Fitzgerald was ordered to hire an independent appraiser at his own expense to view the equipment and assess its value. A copy of the appraisal is to be provided to the court and the defendant.

Tenney Mountain Development Group was also directed to provide Fitzgerald and the court with documentation of the money it claims Fitzgerald owes.

Upon receipt of the plaintiff's appraisal and the defendant's claimed damages, the court will set an appropriate bond amount, which Fitzgerald must post with the clerk of court prior to retrieving his equipment.

Once the bond is posted, Fitzgerald is to be allowed to enter the property of the Plymouth ski area to retrieve his equipment at his own expense, the judge ruled.

On Dec. 6, Fitzgerald and his one-time employer faced each other in court after their parting left such hard feelings they each brought a lawsuit against each other. Fitzgerald claims he was hired by Tenney Mountain Development Group as chief operating officer to oversee the redevelopment and expansion of the ski area which has yet to reopen.

As part of his work, Fitzgerald maintains he supplied certain equipment and that the understanding between the parties was that he was to be paid for the use of a tractor and other heavy equipment used during the project. Earlier, the court granted Fitzgerald a $375,000 attachment against Tenney Mountain Development Group's real estate pending resolution of the dispute.

Meanwhile, Michael Bouchard, the president of Tenney Mountain Development Group, who is not named as a defendant in Fitzgerald's suit, filed a counterclaim alleging that he was duped into giving Fitzgerald money for services not delivered.

In a ruling issued Dec. 12, Judge O'Neill also upheld his prior decision mandating that Tenney Mountain Development Group pay Fitzgerald's attorney, Robert Hunt of Franklin, $1,300 in legal fees necessitated after it initially failed to respond to the suit and defaulted. Payment must be made within 15 days.

A status conference in the case is now scheduled to be held on April 25. If the parties are unable to negotiate a settlement, a jury is set to be picked in mid-July.

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