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Taradif sues council over mill conversations

LACONIA — Tom Tardif has filed suit against the City Council, charging that in October the council twice met privately with trustees of the Belknap Mill Society in violation of the Right-to-Law.

In his petition to the court Tardif notes that in November, when Mayor Ed Engler referred to the private meetings, his remarks were reported by The Daily Sun, prompting him to request records of the meetings. City Manager Scott Myers informed him that the council voted to seal the minutes of the meetings. Tardif alleges that decisions were taken but not recorded at both meetings.

Tardif has asked the court to review the minutes of both meetings to determine if the matters discussed represent exceptions to the Right-to-Know Law as the council claims, order the disclosure of minutes that fail to qualify as exceptions and require the councilors, city manager and city clerk to undergo remedial training in the administration of the Right-to-Know Law.

In a private e-mail to Tardif, which he attached to his petition, Engler explained that both non-public meetings were held to consider "the acquisition, sale or lease of real property," one of subjects the Right-to-Know Law permits to be discussed in a non-public session. He added that "the reason was solid: at both meetings we discussed the possibility of the city purchasing the mill from the society. Specific dollar amounts were mentioned."

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 02:11

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Historic preservation easement granted to state would constrain new owner of Belknap Mill

LACONIA — As the Belknap Mill Society seeks a new owner for the historic building its efforts will be constrained, perhaps severely, by a Term Historic Preservation Easement it granted to the state in 2004 in the course of securing a grant from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

In November, Christine Santaniello, president of the society, which acquired the mill in 1974, announced that it no longer has the financial capacity to own and maintain the building. The board of trustees offered the building to the city for an undisclosed price, on the understanding that under municipal ownership it would remain open to both the public and the society. Without expressly declining or accepting the offer to purchase the building, the majority of the City Council asked the trustees to court a private purchaser.

However, the restrictions and obligations the easement places on the owner of the mill, especially a prohibition against operating it for private profit, represent strong disincentives for any private party other than a philanthropist to invest in the property.

The easement, granted for a term of 50 years, is intended "to ensure that the architectural, historical, and cultural features" of the mill are sustained and "to prevent any use or change of the property" that would "impair or interfere" with this purpose. The easement provides that if the society divests itself of all or part of the building, its "restrictions, stipulations, and covenants" shall bind the new owner.

The easement obliges the owner of the mill to maintain it in "the same or better condition and state of repair" as that on the date of the easement and prescribes that work shall be undertaken in accord with standards specified for historic buildings by the United States Secretary of the Interior. An "annual stewardship report," detailing all work on the both the exterior and interior" of the building must be submitted to the LCHIP.

The owner must make both the first floor, which in 2004 housed the gallery, museum and gift shop, and the meeting room on the third floor "accessible to the public during regular operating hours." In other words, the easement appears to designate these two floors as public space, which could be hired for meetings and events, but not leased for extended periods. Likewise, the uses of the mill as a gallery, museum, gift shop and rented offices, cannot be changed unless the Department of Cultural Resources finds that the proposed uses do not "impair the preservation values" of the building and do not conflict with the purposes of the easement.

The easement provides that no alterations to the dimensions or exterior of the building, including any changes to the materials or finishes, can be undertaken with the express approval of the Department of Cultural Resources. Moreover, the profile of the building cannot be obscured by plantings, utility lines or equipment like satellite dishes. Signage is explicitly restricted to a nine-by-eleven inch plaque stating the significance of the building and the easement, a sign bearing the address, and temporary signs advertising a special event or space for rent. The owner is bound to insure the building for its "full replacement value."

If necessary, the terms of the easement may be amended by the mutual consent of the Belknap Mill Society, Department of Cultural Resources and Land and Community Heritage Authority. However, amendments must be consistent with the purpose of the original easement and not affect its duration. Above all, the easement cannot be amended to "permit any private inurement to any person or entity," which ensures that the building cannot be operated for private profit.

Meanwhile, when the City Council hosted a public meeting on the future of the mill earlier this week, George Roberts of Gilmanton, a former president of the Belknap Mill Society, voiced concern that the trustees approached city officials without convening a meeting of the members of the society to inform them of the situation. Later Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) suggested the defer further discussion of the issue until the trustees met with their membership.

Mayor Ed Engler said yesterday that the council will return to the issue at some future date, "probably at first in a non-public session, since we will be discussing the transfer of real estate and talking about specific figures." Noting that selling the property to the city is the first option of the trustees, he explained "we must tell them whether or not that is going to happen in a relatively timely manner so they can move on." For the moment, Engler said that the council would await the next step taken by the trustees, who he expects will be meeting this week.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 02:08

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Gilford man charged with May rape of female guest of local hotel

GILFORD — Police have charged a Lake Street man breaking into a woman's hotel room in May and forcibly raping her.

Douglas Fisher, 54, of 15 Lake Street, Apt A. is charged with one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault (forcible rape), one count of burglary, and one count of robbery.

Gilford Police said Fisher was taken into custody without incident. He is being held on $100,000 cash bail after appearing yesterday in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division. He is scheduled for a probable cause hearing on December 15.

Police said they received a call from a woman in the early morning hours of May 7 who reported being attacked and sexually assaulted at The Margate Resort by a male assailant.

During the investigation, police collected evidence that included DNA from the victim. The DNA was identified as Fisher's based on a matching sample already entered into the National DNA (CODIS) database.

"We're glad to have him in custody," said Lt. Kris Kelley who noted the detailed investigation done by Det. Sgt. Chris Jacques and Det. Denise Parker.

In December of 2013, Fisher was charged with driving while intoxicated and one count of driving after revocation after he backed into a Laconia Police cruiser that was driving down Lake Street while he plowing at the hotel.

Gilford Police investigated the accident and said the truck Fisher was driving was registered to Plymeg Hotel Management.

At the time of the accident, Fisher's record indicates he had one previous driving while intoxicated charge from 2012.

Yesterday Kelley said Fisher has a criminal record but not for sexual assault. He declined to say anything further.

The affidavits supporting Fisher's arrest have been sealed for 30 days by the court and police are not releasing any more details at this time.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 02:03

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Nedeau says he can't work with new commissioners, will resign

LACONIA — Belknap District 3 County Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), citing differences with newly-elected members of the commission, resigned effective January 1 at a meeting of the commission last night at the Belknap County complex.
Nedeau, who was first elected to the commission for a two-year term in 2010 and elected to a four-year term in 2012, had two years left in his current term.
He said that he couldn't see himself being able to work with new commissioners Dick Burchell (R-Gilmanton) and Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) who will take office on January 2.
''They (Burchell and DeVoy) don't even speak to me,'' said Nedeau, who was closely aligned on policy issues with the two outgoing commissioners Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) and John Thomas (R-Belmont). Thomas was defeated by Burchell in the Republican primary in September.
At last week's commission meeting held in response to the county Executive Committee's decision not to grant the commission's request for a transfer of funds to pay $24,000 in legal bills Nedeau told fellow commissioner Philpot that ''it was amazing to sit there and listen to our next commissioner basically swear at me.''
He said that he didn't think it was possible for him to work with the new commissioners and didn't want to place himself in the position of always being the minority member and unable to accomplish any of the goals of the current commission.
''Belknap Couunty will survive these guys.'' said Nedeau.

Commissioners Philpot and Thomas praised Nedeau for his work on behalf of the county as a commissioner and his previous 10 years as a county legislator, as well as his service as deputy sheriff for the county.. Thomas noted that he and Nedeau had worked together for many years as legislators and also as deputy sheriffs for the county and said that his service will be sorely missed.
Philpot noted that the current commissioners had set an example of working together which shows that ''we all don't have to agree but we always need to talk.''
Nedeau had served as chairman of the county convention when it hired Craig Wiggin as sheriff in 2007 to replace Dan Collis. The procedure was challenged by activists Doug Lambert and Tom Tardif because the votes were not taken in public and they won a court decision which forced the county to have recorded public votes by commission members.
Choice of Nedeau's successor will be up to Belknap County Convention, which under state law 661, section 661:9, is empowered to fill vacancies on county commissions.
The law reads: II. (a) If a vacancy occurs in the office of a county commissioner, the members of the county convention shall fill the vacancy by majority vote until the next biennial election of county officers. If the term filled is less than the unexpired term, then notwithstanding any provisions of RSA 653:1, VI, the commissioner district filled pursuant to this paragraph shall be added to the next biennial election ballot to be chosen by the voters of the county for a 2-year term.
The procedure used by the convention will be required to meet the public vote standard set by the state Supreme Court in the Lambert-Tardif ruling.
The commission also heard from County Administrator Debra Shackett that more budget transfers will be needed before the end of the year and will be presented to the convention's Executive Committee on Tuesday, December 16 at a meeting whose time has yet to be determined.
Shackett said that the nursing home needs transfers between Medicare A and Medicare B accounts and that trying to keep track of fund balances in order to meet the court ruling obtained by the county convention which prohibits transfers of more than $300 without Executive Committee approval has become onerous and very time intensive.
''I have the director of nursing keeping track of spending every day. Things change so rapidly on a daily basis that we have to review spending in quarter hour increments,'' said Shackett.
''This shows why the court order is wrong. It's completely unworkable and unmanageable. I don't think this was clearly articulated in court and the result is this situation,'' said Philpot.
Shackett said that the situation is going to get far worse next year and that there will be a significant need for transfers which will have to be dealt with.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 03:18

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