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Judge rules heroin use evidence on car seat is in

SUPERIOR COURT — A Belknap County Judge ruled last week that the drug evidence seized from the car of a man found by police slumped over his steering wheel in the downtown parking garage can be used against him.

Conversely, Judge James O'Neill ruled that a knife seized as part of an inventory search of Kory MacDonald's car was obtained by police without a lawful warrant and won't be allowed.

MacDonald is charge with once count of possession of controlled narcotic drugs (heroin), one count of falsifying physical evidence (for attempting to hide the heroin), and one count of being a felon in possession of a deadly weapon (the knife).

He was allegedly found slumped over the steering wheel of his car on April 7 at 11:22 a.m.

The responding officer said he saw a spoon, a baggie, and a lighter in MacDonald's hand. After waking him, she said he tried repeatedly to move his right hand toward the center console of the car, either to hide the alleged evidence or reach for a weapon.

After MacDonald ignored repeated orders for him to put his hands on the steering wheel where she could see them, she removed him from the car.

She seized the baggie, the spoon, and a needle found in plain sight on the drivers seat.

The knife was found as part of an inventory search conducted before the car was towed.

O'Neill ruled that the officer didn't need a warrant to seize the drug evidence because is was a "plain view exception" of a need for a search warrant because she had reason to believe that he had recently used and was under the influence.

O'Neill ruled that the initial intrusion, which afforded the view was lawful; and that the incriminating nature of the evidence was immediately apparent.

He said the state didn't determine that her initial intrusion into the car — to remove MacDonald — afforded her a plain view of the knife in which case, O'Neill said the police should have gotten a warrant.

MacDonald is scheduled for a jury trial in early October.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 01:29

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Arsenault resigns from school board after 16 years of service

LACONIA — Ward 2 School Board member Beth Arsenault has resigned after serving for 16 years.

Chair Chris Guilmett said her resignation came in the form of an e-mail dated August 17. Arsenault cited her increasing obligations elsewhere as the reason she can no longer serve on the board.

During the past year, Arsenault has attended few of the board's bi-monthly meetings.

Arsenault made her place on the board primarily in the areas of policy and facilities and was one of the members who was instrumental in getting the Laconia Middle School built and the Huot Technical Center renovated.

Arsenault is also a N.H. State Representative who serves the combined district of Laconia and Belmont. A Democrat, she is the deputy majority leader in the House and sits on the Education Committee.

Member Joe Cormier said he served with Arsenault the entire time he has been on the board and described her as a catalyst for community forums and change.

"She will be sorely missed," Cormier said.

Arsenault's mother, Judith Reever, served on the School Board from 1976 to 1997.

Since the filing period for the upcoming primary in September and general election in November has long past, the now vacant Ward 2 seat will be filled by the School Board.

Guilmett said the district will be accepting letters of interest until September 23 and any person interested in serving must be a registered voter in Ward 2.

He said the Budget and Personnel Committee, that consists of Scott Vachon, Mike Persson, and Cormier will hold public interviews for any and all candidates with the goal of making a recommendation to the full board for appointment on October 20.

Letters of interest should be sent to the Laconia School District Superintendents Office at 39 Harvard St. Laconia, N.H. 03246.

Former civics teacher and retired Laconia Education Association president Richard Coggon said he felt it was the responsibility of the entire School Board to publicly interview all of the candidates for the seat.

Although it's been a long time since there was the need for an appointed position — Cormier said he thought he was the last person appointed to fill a vacancy and that was many years ago — Coggon said having a subcommittee interview prospective board members was a departure from the past.

Persson said that if there was a division within the Budget or Personnel Committee or if one of the other three remaining School Board members felt strongly either for or against their preferred candidate, then the interviews could always be done by the entire board.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 01:57

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Lay offs appear likely if county is to meet court order to get health insurance costs back within original budget

LACONIA — County Commissioner John Thomas of Belmont, who chairs the Belknap County Commission, said yesterday that when the commission meets this evening it will "weigh its options" for addressing a court order prohibiting the commissioners from spending more money from any line item in the county budget than the convention appropriated to it and from transferring more than $300 from any line item without the express approval of the Belknap County Convention.

Last week Justice James D. O'Neill, III granted the request of the convention for a preliminary injunction to forbid the commission from spending more money from any annual line item than the convention appropriated to it without the written approval of the Executive Committee of the convention. Likewise, any transfer of more than $300 from one line item to another also requires the approval of the executive committee.

In the 2014 budget the convention adopted in March, $2,594,925 was appropriated for health insurance, the same amount expended in 2013. However, the commission, without approaching the executive committee, transferred sufficient funds from other line items to fund the employer's share of the annual premium increase and has authorized those payments for the first three quarters of the year.

Questioning the decision, Thomas said yesterday that "the judge is not looking at the ramifications of the issue. There's not much that can be said at this point," he continued. He said that the commission will meet legal counsel prior to their meeting tonight to consider the implications of the judge's order.

Meanwhile, County Administrator Debra Shackett and Finance Director Glen Waring had begun assessing the effects of the ruling and alternative means of complying with it.

Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, said that she was very pleased but not surprised by the ruling. "I don't see how the statute (RSA 24) can be interpreted in any other way than how Judge O'Neill interpreted it," she said. "They have been playing dirty pool for two years," she said of the commissioners, "and they've bought themselves a boatload of trouble."

"There is nothing new, different or radical about he decision," said Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the executive committee of the convention. "This is how the budget process worked in Belknap County until the last four years," he said, allowing that this year the threshold for transfers requiring the approval of the executive committee was lowered to $300 while it had been as much as $10,000 in past years.

Tilton said that he has scheduled a meeting of the executive committee on Monday, September 15 to "review the budget through the month of August and consider any requests for transfers." Although he confessed "I have no idea what the commissioners will do," he said "I hope they will communicate before the meeting on September 15."

For the commission, defraying the employer's share of the increased cost of health insurance is a contractual obligation under the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the union representing county employees. Those contracts have expired and new agreements have not been ratified or funded.

In the interim the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) and New Hampshire Supreme Court have ruled that the employer is required to maintain the "status quo" until a new agreement is ratified and funded. Futhermore, the court ruled that "that the health insurance benefits received by the bargaining unit members ... are conditions of employment" and the employer "must continue to provide these benefits during the status quo period regardless of the cost."

Worsman, yesterday, disagreed. "There is no contract," she insisted. "The contract expired a year or two ago." She said that the convention met the obligation by budgeting the same amount in 2014 and as it did in 2013. "No one got less this year than they received last year," she said.

Nevertheless, the commissioners feared that should the county fail to fully fund the increase in the employer contribution to health insurance it could find itself in breach of contract. And they declined to reduce the number of employees — allowed under "status quo — and, with what the convention appropriated, full fund the health insurance benefit of those who remained.

Now there is a real prospect of lay offs.

During the first three quarters of the year, the commission will have spent approximately $180,000 more on health insurance than the convention appropriated. One option would be to lay off a sufficient number of employees, whose remaining health insurance costs would match the overage. The effect would be to balance health insurance expenditures with what the convention appropriated while spending less than appropriated for wages and associated costs. The Daily Sun estimated that this option would require laying off about 30 employees.

Alternatively the commissioners could reduce the number of layoffs and request the executive committee to approve transferring the funds saved in wages to offset the overage in health insurance.

Ironically, this spring both Worsman and Tilton introduced legislation to amend the statute governing the county budget process, which mirrored the logic and effect of O'Neill's order. In the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the Municipal and County Government Committee unanimously recommended against both bills, which were ultimately rejected by voice votes on the House floor.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 01:06

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Silt carried to mouth of Black Brook to be subject of joint Laconia/Gilford study

GILFORD — After hearing from Conservation Commission members Carole Hall and Everett McLaughlin during last week's meeting, selectmen suggested they add $4,000 to their operating budget next year to contribute toward a study of Black Brook.

The study, which is being proposed jointly with the Laconia Conservation Commission, is to evaluate the silt and fluvial erosion the empties into Spinaker Cove on Paugus Bay.

The cove, said John Jude, a member of the Gilford Conservation Commission, is filled not only with milfoil — an invasive species that has long plagued area waters — but garbage as well.

Black Book has its headwaters in Lily Pond and winds a short way through the heavily commercial corridor bordering Lake Share Drive (Rte. 11) before discharging into Spinaker Cover

Jude said the study and a clean up of Black Brook has been spearheaded by the Laconia Conservation Commission.

The City of Laconia received two bids for the first phase of the study/action plan and successfully negotiated with DuBois & King to do the study.

To date, the city of Laconia has raised $17,000 for the geo-morphic study (Phase 1) that will help develop and intimate understanding of the physical condition or the existing stream corridor and the nature of the problem.

Walmart and Hutter Construction contributed $10,000 to assist with Phase I and the Lacona Conservation Commission added $7,000 of funds not expended from the 2014-2015 budget.

Additional donations have been received or are anticipated by private land owners along Black Brook.

With the $4,000 contribution from Gilford in the next budget year, Jude said they will have enough money to complete the geo-morphic study.

Both conservation commissions will continue to raise money for the second and third phases of the study — the total of which will be $35,000. After Phase I is the Hydrological and Hydraulic Culvert Analysis and the Watershed Plan.

The goals of the study and eventual work that will likely be done through a federal grant, is to reduce to need for ongoing dredging at Spinaker Cove; reduce the milfoil by eliminating some of the sediments that accumulate in the stagnate areas by the Union Avenue Road; decrease the turbidity and reduce the water temperature; control the debris; improve flows from the brook and replace some of the culverts to better control vegetative buffers; and to protect Paugus Bay — the drinking water supply for Laconia.

Jude said ideally and initially, he would like to get a work group together and pick up some of the garbage that has flowed down Black Brook. He said Black Brook is short and, for the most part, they already know what the stress factors are.

There is a meeting of the Joint Gilford-Laconia Subcommittee on Black Brook scheduled to meet tonight at 6 p.m. in Laconia.

CUTLINE: ( Black Brook) Black Brook as it appears just before the Union Avenue Bridge. A quiet sanctuary just feet from a busy avenue, this area is home to blue herons, turtles, ducks and other aquatic wildlife. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 01:04

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