Controversy over 'tone & tenor' of Laconia Planning Board results in close vote for reappointment of Chairman Warren Hutchins

LACONIA — The division among city councilors that arose earlier this week over the reappointment of Warren Hutchins, the chairman of the Planning Board, reflected concerns expressed by some developers and contractors about how the board conducts its business.

Hutchins, who also chairs the Lakes Region Planning Commission, was reappointed to a three year term by a three-to-two vote, with Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) voting in favor and Councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) voting against. Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who serves as the liaison to the Planning Board, was absent, but would also have voted to reappoint Hutchins.

At the same time and by the same margin, the council declined to appoint Charlie St. Claiir, a critic of Hutchins, to the board. Only Baer and Hamel voted to seat St. Clair. Instead, the council voted unanimously to appoint Edwin Bones, a building contractor and real estate broker relatively new to the city.

Before the councilors voted several people spoke both for and against the reappointment of Hutchins. Kevin Morrissette, who has developed residential properties in the city for 30 years, described the attitude of the Planning Board as "not as friendly as it might be". He explained that while the rules and regulations are clear, the members pursue "their own little agendas", which he makes "the board very difficult to deal with". Alluding to Hutchins, he told the councilors that "three more years of the same is not what we should be looking for."

Kevin Morrissette was echoed by his brother Peter, the owner of Joyce Janitorial Services and Lakes Region Party & Gifts who has developed residential and commercial property in partnership with his brother. He told the council that he had spoken with five others who shared his misgivings about the Planning Board, three of whom declined to speak openly for fear of retribution.

Peter Morrissette said that when he went before the Zoning Board of Adjustment to seek a variance permitting him to use the former St. Helena Mission Church as a storage facility he endured "personal attacks" from Hutchins, who, he said, claimed to speak for neighboring homeowners, but reminded the ZBA that he chairs the Planning Board.

Likewise he recalled that when and his brother developed a residential, multi-family property on Washington Street their original plan satisfied every city regulation, but the Planning Board insisted on architectural changes that were not specified in the zoning ordinance. As a result, he was required to present eight sets of fresh plans — 12 pages each — and his engineering costs, estimated at $3,000 swelled to $7,200.
In addition, he said that the board insisted he keep three oak trees on the property, including one overhanging a building that damaged a car when it shed its acorns. "Did I get a check for the $1,700 I paid to repair the car and for the $600 I paid to prune the tree?" he asked.

"It's not very user friendly and very frustrating," Peter Morrissette said. "I will not go to the planning Board as long as Mr. Hutchins is on the board," he continued. "I'm sick of it." As for the church property, he declared "I'll develop it three years from now when Mr. Hutchins is gone."

Clay Dunn, a contractor, said "I haven't heard anything positive from the Planning Board in two or three years" and added "it's a struggle and time for a new direction."

However, Hamilton McLean, a member of the Planning Board, rose in defense of Hutchins. As a veteran of land use boards in New York and New Jersey, he said "I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly on both sides of the fence" and stressed to the councilors "you have some very fine people who hold Laconia's best interests at their core." As a board member, he said he had witnessed the alleged "obstructive behavior" and urged the council to "consider the record of the Planning Board."

When the council voted, Lipman addressed the criticism leveled against the Planning Board. He said that he has heard similar concerns and acknowledged that "the tone and tenor is not always supportive of getting things done."

I'm going to be watching very carefully how we are perceived going forward," Lipman continued. "When economic development is thwarted, we pay a price." He said that while situation needs to be corrected, "blowing it up (by not reappointing Hutchins) is not the right course."

Although Hutchins was not in the council chamber, Lipman addressed him, saying, "you need to take stock of what's been said here tonight."

Minutes of private county meetings show depth of dissension over Logue

LACONA — Belknap County Commissioners held a stormy closed-door session Monday dealing with a grievance complaint filed by Nursing Home Director Mathew Logue.
''It was the most heated non-public meeting we've ever held,'' said Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), whose observation is borne out by the recently released minutes of that session. Minutes of non-public meetings held on July 1 and July 15 were also made public.
The core issue discussed at Monday's meeting was a needed response to a grievance filed by Logue against the county which apparently names the commissioners and County Administrator Debra Shackett as offenders. The nature of the grievance is not described in the meeting minutes but is alluded to in minutes of earlier non-public sessions.
At the July 15 meeting commissioners discussed a request by Shackett for legal representation in the "Logue matter", which Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said was premature as the claim had been communicated to the county's insurance carrier.
''The carrier will have to make a determination as to whether the allegations set forth in the Logue demand letter are within the coverage of the county's (insurance) policy,'' the July 15 minutes read.
The so-called demand letter from Logue's attorney was brought up by Commissioner Taylor at the same meeting when he questioned whether or not Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) was suggesting that the commissioners consider offering Logue ''the $80,000 referred to in his attorney's demand in return for Mr. Logue's resignation.'' Burchell said that he was not taking a position on the demand by Logue's attorney.
Commissioners have been drafting a letter referencing ''the performance problems that have been discussed with Mr. Logue by the commissioners'' since June 25 when DeVoy requested that County Administrator Shackett prepare an official response.
DeVoy said at that July 1 meeting that he was reluctant to deliver the letter and wanted to try to resolve the problem with less formal conversations. Burchell opposed sending the letter, maintaining that Logue was doing well, while Taylor said that from his standpoint the letter was not strong enough.
The letter was discussed again at the July 15 meeting at which Taylor said ''there has been more insubordination (on Logue's part) than is reflected in the letter,'' and Burchell again opposed sending the letter, claiming that ''it ignored lying by the county administrator. I was part of the (state lawmaker) panel that decided the appeal from Director Logue's termination and I know who was lying.''
Logue had been fired in August of 2014 by the former Belknap County Commissioners and had appealed his firing to the Belknap County Convention's Personnel Committee, which at that time consisted of former convention chairman Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), Vice Chairman, Rep. Bob Greemore (R-Meredith) and Burchell, who at that time was a state representative from Gilmanton and clerk of the county convention.
The committee voted unanimously following a lengthy hearing in October to reinstate Logue as nursing home administrator and denied a request from the former commissioners to reconsider the issue, which led to them filing a suit with the New Hampshire Supreme Court to overturn the reinstatement. But Burchell and DeVoy, who were the only two commissioners to take office in early January, voted to drop the appeal and reinstated Logue. They had made their intention to drop the appeal public before they took office.
Taylor was appointed to the commission shortly thereafter by the Belknap County Convention. He was the only candidate for the vacancy, which had been brought about by the resignation of former Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) who said that he was unable to work with the newly-elected commissioners.
At Monday's meeting, after Burchell repeated his claim that Shackett had lied at the Logue reinstatement hearing and said that ''the problem started in February when you would not agree to fire Shackett,'' Commissioner Taylor said ''before you ever took office. . .  that on your first day in office you wanted to fire her, seize her computer and have a sheriff's deputy escort her out of the building.''
Taylor also said that he understood from Burchell that the decision to reinstate Logue was not based on a finding that Shackett lied.
At Monday's non-public meeting, the commissioners voted 2-1 to send the letter which had been drafted to Logue and make it part of his employee file. Burchell was the odd man out.
Burchell, who was elected as chairman of the commission in January, was ousted as chairman in early March and replaced by DeVoy at a March 2 meeting during which Burchell attempted to prevent his ouster by continually rapping the gavel and declaring that the other commissioners were out of order.
At a June 4 meeting commissioners Taylor and DeVoy censured Burchell for leaking information from a non-public meeting to Logue and earlier this month unsealed the minutes of seven non-public meetings held while Burchell was chairman.
The minutes of the non-public meeting of Feb. 23 showed that Logue had filed a grievance maintaining that electronic mail communications were illegally taken from his work computer, depriving him of the opportunity to refute charges made against him by Shackett.
Regarding a written statement on Logue's grievance, which he had filed with Burchell on Feb. 16, commissioners Taylor and DeVoy pointed out that Logue had not been denied a request for restoration of his work e-mail and had been directed by the county administrator's office to contact Mainstay Technologies, the county's information vendor, to inquire about the feasibility of restoring his e-mail history.
At the time that he filed his grievance the process of restoring his e-mail was already underway, according to the two commissioners, who said that time requirement for filing a grievance is within five working days of an employee knowing that they have a grievance and that Logue, who had returned to work on January 8, had discussed the missing e-mails with Administrative Assistant Angela Bovill in mid-January. They concluded his grievance had not been filed on time and denied it.
The commissioners also said that Logue's conclusion that his e-mails were wrongfully taken had no evidence to support it as there was no hint of any intentional wrongdoing. Logue had been away from his work computer for four months but had received an e-mail file prior to the October 6, 2014 hearing containing all of his e-mail history.

Stand-off in Gilmanton over who will fill vacant Selectboard seat

GILMANTON — Selectman Don Guarino, who chairs the board, and Michael Jean found themselves at loggerheads after questioning the three candidates — Rachel Hatch, Brian Forst and Brett Currier — seeking to fill the third seat on Board of Selectmen emptied by the resignation of Steve McCormack.

Guarino favored Currier. Jean preferred either of the other two. And when neither budged they tabled the appointment until their next meeting, both indicating they would not change their tune.

McCormack resigned earlier this month in response to criticism that he had revealed that police Chief Joe Collins would be retiring at the end of the year after the subject was discussed at a non-public meeting of the Selectboard. Currier's son Matthew, currently a sergeant with the Police Department, has already been named to succeed Collins on January 1.

Guarino began by describing all three candidates as qualified for the position, though he quipped that Hatch, the administrative assistant at the Gilmanton School District, "would be perfect for the selectmen's administrative assistant, but the job's not open."

Forst, who chairs the Budget Committee and served one term as selectman in the past, said that if he was appointed he would relinquish the chairmanship of the Budget Committee and not seek re-election to the Board of Selectmen.

Likewise, Hatch, also a former selectman, said that she intended only to complete the unexpired term of seven months.

Currier, completed a term as selectman last March and, after failing to file for re-election, polled 278 write-in votes to finish second to Jean for the lone seat on the ballot.

Guarino held that by tradition the runner-up at the March election should be appointed, noting that Hatch, who finished behind David Clairmont in 2007, was was named to complete his term after his death. Jean countered that his 463 votes, together with the 160 votes polled by Scott Dunn, represented 623 cast against Currier, which must not be ignored.

"If the town wanted him, he' be sitting here and I wouldn't be going through this mess," Jean said.

Jean asked each of the candidates half a dozen questions. All agreed that little could be done to reduce the burden of property taxes in light of the dearth of commercial property in town. Hatch recalled that efforts to trim costs have met with concern from the public about depleted services. "There's no simple solution," she said, adding "we're trying to get a healthier tax base."

Forst noted that the town tax rate has been stable and remarked, "I don't see the belt being loose on the town side or on the school side." He cautioned that promising to lower the tax burden would be "kicking the stone down the street."

While Currier also doubted the tax burden could be lightened significantly, he stressed that it need not increase. "I can't see anything in this town we're lacking," Currier said, adding that municipal departments are large enough for towns with twice the population of Gilmanton. "Employees are well rewarded and their equipment is adequate," he said, "but we don't need more and more. Slow it down."

While both Hatch and Forst were open to the establishment and use of capital reserve funds in certain circumstances, particularly if they were established and funded by warrant articles subject to the approval of voters. Currier disagreed. He described capital reserve funds as "taking money out of taxpayers' accounts and putting it in the town's saving account" and said that the money would be spent on projects and equipment with life spans longer than those who paid for them, who "will never enjoy their use".

All three expressed concern at the dissension aroused by the Gilmanton Year-Round Library, particularly the prospect of providing funding for the library in the town's operating budget. Hatch observed that the library has become something of a "community center" and warrant articles to fund it have carried by rising margins during the past seven years. She expected the selectmen will ultimately have to address the issue.

Forst said only that he would "like to see the town stop being divided over such a simple situation."

Currier flatly oppose funding the library in the operating budget, but said "I'm not against the library." Noting that the success of warrant articles to fund the library, he remarked "the petitioned article will sell itself. You don't need to sell the library itself."

All three agreed that zoning ordinances and building codes should be enforced, but cautioned against officials aggressively seeking problems to address. "I don't want the building inspector acting as a constable," Forst remarked. Asked if they would disband the Historic District Commission, the three said that any such initiative should not come from the Board of Selectmen. And no one expressed enthusiasm for expanding the Selectboard from three to five. "It's challenging enough to have three well-rounded selectmen," Forst said while Currier said he would not propose it and the question should be left to the people.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Selectmen is Tuesday, August 11.

Shots fired through front door of Meredith house

MEREDITH — A Lempster, Mass. man, who allegedly fired two shots through the screen door of an occupied home on Corliss Hill Road on Sunday morning, is being held in the Belknap County Jail in lieu of $100,000 cash bail following his arraignment Monday in 4th Circuit Court-Laconia Division.

Jesse Lohman, 33, of 137 Charlestown Turnpike Road, Lempster is charged with reckless conduct, being a felon in possession of firearm and receiving stolen property — all felonies.

According to police, Lohman, driving a black Toyota Rav4, appeared at 42 Corliss Hill Road, the home of Thomas and Janice Joslin, shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday. When Joslin answered the door, Lohman said that he was looking for a woman named Cassandra. When Joslin told him he had come to the wrong house, he returned to the Rav4. Joslin, who had stepped outside, told police that he went back into the house, looked out a window and saw Joslin toss a knife from the vehicle then raise a handgun, aim toward the house and fire twice through the screen door. Joslin and his wife took cover and called 911.

By the time police arrived, the Joslins had fled from their home and hidden in a barn across the street. Officers found Lohman between the Joslins' home and a detached garage He then walked to the Rav4 parked in the driveway. In his affidavit Lieutenant Keith True described Lohman as apparently "agitated, throwing his hands in the air and carrying on." He got into the car, appeared to look for something then got out and stood in front of it. Officer Philip McLaughlin, armed with a rifle and behind cover, ordered Lohman to the ground. He complied and was taken into custody without incident.

Lohman was in possession of one live round, a holster and a hypodermic needle containing what police suspected was methamphetamine. A backpack on the ground near the Rav4 was found to contain magazines and loose rounds for a Glock 9 mm. handgun, which along with two knives were taken as evidence. Police subsequently learned that the Rav4 was stolen from the Circle K store in New Hampton.

When questioned police said Lohman "was agitated at times and acted paranoid at other times." He admitted he was a drug addict as well as a member of Brothers of White Warriors, a prison-based gang. But, he refused to answer questions to to explain his behavior.

Lohman has an extensive criminal history, including a conviction for burglary, a felony, for which he was sentenced to one to seven years in New Hampshire State Prison in 2000. He is scheduled to appear in 4th Circuit Court for a probable cause hearing on August 4.