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Contradiction & Confusion persist in Moultoborough

MOULTONBOROUGH —After a special meeting of the Planning Board on Wednesday and the regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Thursday many residents are more puzzled by the conduct of the selectmen than by that of the two members of the Planning Board — Josh Bartlett and Judy Ryerson — against whom they have initiated removal proceedings.

Amid much confusion, this much is clear. On July 10, the Planning Board, by a tortured process and in a controversial decision, approved the construction of an observation tower on Red Hill built without requisite permits. At least two of the five selectmen fielded complaints from citizens and the selectboard may or may not have received a written statement from one or more individuals apparently questioning the conduct of two members of the Planning Board.

Following their regularly scheduled meeting on July 18, the selectmen held a non-meeting with Town Counsel Peter Minkow to consider the information they had received. At the meeting the selectboard agreed to begin removal proceedings, but instructed Town Administrator Carter Terenzini and Minkow to offer the two members the opportunity to resign rather than undergo a public hearing. After both Bartlett and Ryerson refused to resign, the selectmen set a public hearing on September 9 to determine if there is cause to remove Bartlett and Ryerson from the Planning Board. The charges, which bore primarily on their conduct in approving construction of the observation tower, were set forth in letters to Bartlett and Ryerson, which were signed by the five selectmen.

The identity of the complainant has not been disclosed and the form of the complaint remains in question. Aggrieved that his character has been impugned, Bartlett has repeatedly asked the selectmen to name the source of the complaint and they have steadfastly refused. On Wednesday, Selectmen Russell Wakefield, who represents the selectboard on the Planning Board, told the Planning that the selectmen received a "petition" from a person he declined to name.

However, on Thursday, when Paul Punturieri, a member of the Planning Board, pressed the selectmen to disclose the source of the complaints, Joel Mudgett, the chairman of the board, replied "actually there were a number of people." Likewise, Selectman John Tolman said that before the board met "the issue was already on my radar." Mudgett went on to say that those who spoke to him did not want to be identified since they might appear before the Planning Board in the future.

When Wakefield asked if the selectboard could disclose the identity of "the person who initiated this with a petition, before any discussion was had by the board," Mudgett said "we had some paperwork . . . but I never did see an actual petition." Wakefield, who the night before insisted the petitioner, not the selectboard, initiated the proceedings — "we're just a pass through body," he said — remarked "I thought I did, but I could be wrong."

"I really am confused," said Bartlett, who reminded Wakefield that earlier he had said there was a letter and had directed Terenzini to provide it to himself and Ryerson, "because now I am being told that there is no such letter and you cannot disclose who the author might be.

"It's frightening to me, and it should be frightening to everyone of you as elected officials," Bartlett declared, "that one poison pen letter kept in secret and the author protected by some bond of secrecy can cause this much hassle. Is there a letter or not?" he asked.

Wakefield replied that the letter sent to Bartlett and Ryerson, with the notice of the hearing and list of the charges, "is not verbatim but very close to the document we received on the afternoon of that non-meeting with town counsel. That's what we received," he repeated. "We understood what it said."

Selectman Chris Shipp reminded his colleagues that anyone bringing a grievance against a town employee must submit a signed written statement and said that the same courtesy should be extended to appointed and elected officials. Several times he said that Bartlett and Ryerson should be entitled to face their accusers, explaining it that it was part of preparing their defense. He urged the board to address the issue of anonymity.

Although earlier Wakefield, the only selectmen to insist that the board received a document, conceded he could not recall if it was signed, Mudgett implied that it could not be disclosed because "the paperwork we saw that night was between us and the town attorney."

"The accuser at this point is the Board of Selectmen," Tolman said. "For right or wrong, we are the ones who signed this letter." He said that the selectmen found that the information they received warranted a public hearing. Wakefield disagreed, repeating what he said the night before that the "petitioner," not the selectmen, initiated the removal proceedings. "The Board of Selectmen are not the accuser," he said. "That's my belief."

Punturieri pointedly asked the selectmen if they had deliberated and voted during the non-meeting with town counsel on July 18. "Yes," said Mudgett. According to the Memorandum of the New Hampshire Attorney General on the application of the "Right-to-Know" law, "deliberation about the matter on which advice is sought may not occur during consultation with legal counsel." Instead, any deliberation and votes must take place in public session.

When Bartlett requested a record of the non-meeting under the Right-to-Know law, Terenzini told him that since no minutes are required of a non-meeting, none were taken and there were no other records of the proceedings. Meanwhile, Wakefield told the Planning Board that after consulting with town counsel the selectmen had no alternative other than to proceed with removal proceedings.

Although Wakefield said earlier that the "petitioner" would present the case against Bartlett and Ryerson at the public hearing, Mudgett said that the role would "probably" fall to Terenzini. Terenzini said yesterday that town counsel would likely serve as legal advisor to the slectmen in the course of the hearing, but hastened to add that there was no formal process for conducting removal hearings in either statutes or rules. "We're doing our best to craft a process that protects everyone's rights," he said.

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 August 2013 03:05

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Solution for water ponding a base of Cat path proposed

GILFORD —  Engineers have recommended collecting water at the intersection of Cat Path and Henderson Road and directing it through a series of catch basins and a 15-foot pipe to an unnamed tributary of the Gunstock River.

The plan, which will need to be approved by the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, will be reviewed by the Conservation Commission on Tuesday at 7 p.m. during its regular meeting.

"We're very concerned about the water build up and now we're going to do something about it," said Town Administrator Scott Dunn.

If the proposal is approved by the state, Dunn said he expects the work to be done in 2014 and as part of the road maintenance budget line in the Department of Public Works. He estimates it will cost around $50,000.

The proposal said the town was faced with three options for the area: do nothing, treat the additional collected storm water from Henderson Road and convey it through a closed-pipe system to a 145-foot vegetated swale, or to construct the above catch basins and pipes.

Unable to secure an easement from the property owner of the proposed swale, the town chose the catch basins and a the 15-foot pipe with outflow to an unnamed Gunstock River tributary. The town expects it will have no effect on Gunstock River.

The collected storm water will be treated runoff because it runs up-grade into heavily wooded area of the 13-acre watershed. It is not anticipated the runoff will increase the temperature of the river, it is not anticipated the runoff will flood the river, and it not expected to erode the discharge area because rip rap will be installed to reduce discharge flow.

Once the Conservation Commission has reviewed the application, it will be forwarded to the DES for approval.

In other Gunstock River news, commission member Everett McLaughlin said the State removed many of the trees that had fallen along the river in a nearby section of Intervale Road.

The part of the Gunstock River that crosses Intervale Road has eroded and has seen excessive turbidity according to a Belknap County Conservation District study done released this spring.

He said the state left the stumps and the Conservation District has applied for grants to help reduce the amount of silt that flows into Saunders Bay from that area of the Gunstock River.

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 August 2013 12:58

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County Convention Nixes Leadership's Bid to Take Court Action against Commission

LACONIA — A divided Belknap County Convention has rejected a move by its leadership to take its ongoing dispute with the Belknap County Commission over budget matters to court, turning down a motion to file a lawsuit against the commission by an 8-9 vote.
Voting for court action Monday night were Convention Chairman Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), Vice Chairman Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith) and Convention Clerk Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton). Joining the leadership were Reps. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), Charles Fink (R-Belmont), Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), and Stephen Holmes (R-Alton)
All the convention members from Laconia, Republicans Don Flanders, Frank Tilton, Bob Luther and Democrat David Huot opposed the motion. They were joined by Democrats Ruth Gulick from New Hampton, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Lisa DiMartino from Gilford, as well as Republicans Dennis Fields of Sanbornton and Herb Vadney from Meredith. Rep. Beth Arsenault (D-Laconia, Belmont) was not present.
The vote came following a closed-door non-meeting the convention held Monday night with Attorney David Horan, who was hired by the convention in April to represent it in its ongoing dispute with county commissioners over budget line-item authority. Commissioners have maintained that they have authority to transfer money from accounts within departmental budgets as long as the amount expended doesn't exceed the bottom line for each department as approved by the convention. The convention maintains that it has authority over each line item and that funds cannot be transferred, even within departments, without their permission.
Worsman defended the attempt to take the commissioners to court, saying: ''At every meeting we have had with them they have shown and said they have no interest in abiding by the vote of the convention.''
She said that she had no idea how the impasse over budget authority would be resolved now that the court action is, for the present, off the table. ''Perhaps they (the commissioners) will have an epiphany,'' said Worsman.
The dispute was triggered by changes made to budget line items by commissioners after the convention cut $600,000 from the $26.7 million budget the commissioners had proposed. Commissioners have maintained that the transfers were made in order to meet contractual obligations for employee benefits, including health insurance, which had been cut in the delegation's budget.
Worsman has charged that since then over 90 accounts have been changed by the commission without any attempt to have the transfers approved by the convention's Executive Committee, as was required in the motion approving the $26,184,616 budget in March.
On Monday, meeting prior to the convention meeting, the Executive Committee turned down two of three budget transfer requests made by the commission, including one which would have increased the amount of funds available to pay for convention meetings from now until the end of the year from $3,500 to $8,000.
Tilton, Executive Committee chairman, said that he voted against taking action in court at the present time but said that doesn't rule out revisiting that decision in the future.
''I totally agree that those were inappropriate expenditures and that the commission violated the law. But I really don't want to go to court and incur legal fees. I think we should give it 60 days to see if we can get some resolution,'' said Tilton.
He noted that two current members of the commission, Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) and Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) have served as County Convention chairmen in the past and that both served on the Executive Committee and required approval for the transfer of sums as small as $12 which were sought by Belknap County Commissioners.
''There's a new budget cycle coming up in December. Unless the commission comes to terms with us it's going to be very difficult for them to come before us and ask for money in line items and then spend it elsewhere,'' said Tilton.
Vadney, who is a member of the executive committee, said that he voted not to going to court at this time because he thinks some kind of compromise agreement can be reached with the commission and there is still plenty of time before the next budget cycle begins.
''There certainly has to be some recognition by the commissioners that the county convention oversees that the budget process could become even more messy than it has been this year unless some understanding is reached within the next few months,'' said Vadney.
Huot said that he didn't like the non-meeting aspect of Monday's proceedings, saying that, while the procedure is legal, it defeats the purpose of the right-to-know law that the public's business should be conducted in open sessions.
He said that those supporting court action don't seem to realize that they can't get a quick opinion on what procedures should be followed with respect to the budget process.
''When you go to court you have got to consider what you can ask the court to do in terms of relief. State laws aren't clear on county government and are sometimes contradictory. It's like county government is more or less an after thought and it was left to the individual counties. County conventions have never been involved in day-to-day running of county government, but instead have general oversight of the budget,'' said Huot.
He said that any Superior Court decision can only be guided by state statutes, which could mean lengthy litigation, not a quick ruling, and pointed out that there would be no guidance from the Superior Court on the issues involved as only the state Supreme Court can issue advisory opinions.
Huot said the best solution would be to work out the differences through the political process and that ultimately legislation which would clearly delineate the responsibilities and duties of the convention and the commissioners should be passed.

Last Updated on Friday, 16 August 2013 03:12

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Sensing a market rebound, Southworth buildng again in The Weirs

LACONIA — Signaling its growing confidence in the real estate market, Southworth Development LLC , the managing developer of Meredith Bay at The Weirs, plans to add a mid-rise building to its growing inventory along either side of Scenic Road.

North Lodges at Meredith Bay is planned on a 6.7-acre lot at the foot of Brickyard Mountain across Scenic Road from the Town Homes at Meredith Bay, which line the shoreline northward from Look Out Rock. The four-story building will house 24 two-bedroom condominium units, six on each floor. Three elevators serving the building will open directly into each of the six units. Chris Duprey, project executive for Southworth Development, anticipated the units would be brought to market in 2014 and priced "beginning in the low $400,000s," noting that the price with vary with the choice of optional features.

In 2010, Southworth began building the Town Homes, 19 two-bedroom town houses on three levels with garages, divided among five buildings along the shoreline. Duprey said that 11 of the have been sold or are under contract. At the same time, the Planning Board approved plans for three mid-rise buildings on the other side of Scenic Road, known as the Lodges at Meredith Bay. Like the North Lodges each of these buildings would house 24 condominium units on four-stories. Construction of the Lodges, which requires extensive site work, has not begun.

Meanwhile, Duprey expects the pace of sales at Meredith Bay, the 129-lot gated community atop Brickyard Mountain, to quicken. He said that 32 of the 129 lots have been sold, most of them since Southworth Development acquired a significant stake in the project in 2007. He said that prospective buyers are seeking to purchase homes rather than lots and there are currently two model homes at the the site.

Duprey stressed that with the construction of the North Lodges Southworth Development will diversify its inventory to include single-family homes and house lots at Meredith Bay, townhouses on three levels at the Town Homes and condominiums on one level at the North Lodges. He said with the completion of the three remaining mid-rise buildings, which have not been scheduled for construction, development the firm's shorefront properties would be virtually complete, leaving space only for a few single-family homes or duplexes.

Last Updated on Friday, 16 August 2013 01:49

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