Moderator Sisti rails against SB2 at Gilmanton candidates night

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — Although running without opposition for his 13th term as moderator of both the town and school district, Mark Sisti delivered the fieriest speech when voters filled the gym at the Gilmanton School to hear from candidates this week.

Not for the first time, Sisti sought to rally support for a petitioned warrant article to rescind official ballot voting, better known as SB2, and restore the traditional Town Meeting form of government where votes are taken at the meeting rather than on the town election day. Gilmanton adopted SB2 in 2012 after three previous efforts in 2003, 2004 and 2005 failed.

Branding SB2 "a nightmare" and "abject failure," Sisti said that "We're just not going in the right direction."

He said that earlier this year only 25 voters, less than 1 percent of the electorate, attended the deliberative session of School District Meeting, while 122, less than 5 percent of the electorate, attended the deliberative session of Town Meeting.

"I don't even known why we called these meetings," Sisti said, noting the meetings took just 20 minutes. "It's ridiculous."

Sisti said that voters cast ballots without knowing what they are voting for or against. A year ago, he remarked, voters rejected a warrant articles authorizing the town to accept a $350,000 federal grant for the purchase of a fire truck should the grant be awarded. "It didn't cost a penny, but they voted no without even knowing what they were voting for." Likewise, voters scuttled the budget only to find that the default budget that replaced it spent more. "Most people don't know that our budget can go up by voting no," Sisti said.

At a traditional Town Meeting, Sisti said, town officials, including members of boards and commissions, can explain warrant articles and answer voters' questions. With SB2, he warned, "When you read articles you have no idea about, don't come to me. When you step into the booth and close the curtain, you're on your own."

Sisti urged voters to question candidates on SB2, which he called "a farce, a proven farce in this town" and "a disaster waiting to happen," then said if they favor it, "I'll be voting against them" to thunderous applause.

Sisti faces long odds. Last year, in an effort to undo SB2, which requires a supermajority of three-fifths to pass, 561 voted against and 402 voted in favor. Since 1995, when SB2 was enacted, there have been more than 70 attempts to rescind it, but only three — in Dorchester, Orange and Enfield — have succeeded and none in the last 15 years.

Veterans & Rookies Square Off in Gilmanton

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — The contest for two of the three seats on Board of Selectmen pits two old hands — Don Guarino and Brett Currier — against two newcomers — Stephen McWhinnie and Marshall Bishop— and that is the least of their differences.

Guarino is seeking his fourth three-year term on the selectboard while Currier, who has served on the Budget Committee and said he has "attended several hundred meetings" in town, is seeking to return for a second term as a selectman. Both describe themselves as fiscal conservatives for whom sparing property taxpayers are high priorities. Neither favors funding the operations of the Gilmanton Year-Round Library with property taxes without the blessing of a vote of Town Meeting.

Guarino, who for the past six months found himself in the minority on the board, said that he was troubled by the decisions of his colleagues, Rachel Hatch and Michael Jean, to raise the salaries of town employees and grant a three-year contract to the town administrator.

"I'm more conservative," he said. "We're running on a budget. "

Guarino and Currier are troubled by the sharp increase in the town portion of the 2015 property tax rate, which arose when revenues from sources other than property taxes were underestimated by some $300,000. They favor drawing from the undesignated fund balance when the 2016 tax rate is set in the autumn to offset the increase. Guarino said he is hopeful that at least $1 per $1,000 of assessed value can be returned to property taxpayers this year.

Guarino also believes that the volume of recycling can be increased and the cost of waste disposal reduced by introducing single-stream recycling, perhaps along with a "pay-as-you-throw" program, which could turn the solid waste operation into a self-funded service.

Of the two, Currier, whose son Matt is the Gilmanton police chief, is the more controversial candidate. There is even a petitioned article on the warrant that would bar him from serving on either the Board of Selectmen or the Budget Committee so long as a member of his family or household is a head of department employed by the town. Currier said that no one should be disqualified from holding office. Recalling that he recused himself from votes bearing on his son when he was a sergeant, he said "I've proven myself and I still would recuse myself now that he is chief."

In 2006, Bishop, who served as a combat photographer in the United States Marine Corps and worked at the Department of Public Works in Gilford, moved into the former home of Grace Metalious, where he has his wife Sunny tend a vineyard, raise alpacas and operate the Gilmanton Winery and Restaurant. "I don't even like politics," he said of his decision to make his first run for office, "but you can't piss and moan unless you do something about it."

"It's about time for a change," Bishop said. "There is a group that think they are the town, " he continued. "I want to give the town back to the people." He said that "Don (Guarino) and Brett (Currier) do a good job," then added "but they can't do everything."

Bishop said that while he understands the importance of fiscal responsibility, he also appreciates the services the town offers. "I like the library and I don't even read," he said, "and I don't mind paying taxes." He said that the interests of the residents and employees of the town will be uppermost among his priorities.

"I'm going to do my best to listen to the people," he insisted. "It's their town."

"I've taken from the town for 50 years," said McWhinnie, who, like Bishop, served as a Marine before operating his own business, "and it's time for me to give back."

Troubled by the division and dissension in the community, he stressed that "I'm totally about transparency and accountability." Airing meetings of the Board of Selectmen, Budget Committee and Planning Board on the town website along with opening a Facebook page for the Board of Selectmen are among his top priorities. He said that instead of quibbling over the minutes and relying on hearsay, residents will be able to see for themselves how town government is working.

An opponent of SB-2, McWhinnie said that greater transparency would encourage more participation.

"That's what we need," he said. "We have so many knowledgeable people in town and we should be welcoming everybody's input."

Like Guarino, he supports efforts to increase the volume of recycling.

"By not recycling, we're just throwing money away," he said, "and paying to do it, too."

He said that he is a strong supporter of the Gilmanton Year-Round Library and believes the town should fund its operations, but said the decision should rest with the voters.

"I'm excited about doing this," McWhinnie said. "It's time to do something different. Time to bring about the unification of the town, to get people to trust."

 

Firehouse cooking

by Adam Drapcho

The on-duty life of a full-time firefighter is unpredictable, with the potential for a high-stress emergency call to come in at any moment, at any hour of the day. In the winter, those calls could require firefighters to spend a lot of time outdoors, in very cold conditions. Working together in these conditions, firefighters and paramedics establish a bond of camaraderie between one another. When there's a break in the action, fire fighters often look forward to sharing a meal with their shift mates.

J.P. Hobby, a firefighter and paramedic who has been with the Laconia Fire Department for 15 years, said the fire service's unique lifestyle is a perfect match for a particular kitchen implement: the slow cooker.

"Especially this time of year, we'll to some crock pot meals," he said. "Chili or stew, or chowder in the crock pot, so that it's all done and everyone gets the chance to sit down and have a hot meal at some point."

As if fighting fires and responding to car accidents in frigid temperatures wasn't enough winter fun, firefighters also shovel out all of the city's fire hydrants after each snow storm. On days such as those, Hobby said everyone looks forward to coming back to the fire station for a hot bowl of "Two Can Chili."

The duplicitous recipe calls for two pounds of meat, browned with two onions, then, "Two cans of kidney beans, two cans of black beans, two cans of tomatoes, it's just two cans, two cans, two cans until the crock pot's full," he said.

"Simple things like that make you happy when you've been out shoveling hydrants all day." He noted that firefighters, not the taxpayers, pay for the groceries.

At the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department, the recipes that Captain David Hall has developed in the fire house have earned him awards at the Granite State Dairy Promotion Mac and Cheese Cook-Off, such as his recipe that incorporates bits of cheese that are fried to crisp, then folded into the dish.

"Have you ever eat the burnt cheese off a pan? You ever like it? That's how I came up with it," said Hall, a 12 year veteran of the Tilton-Northfield Department, who said he learned to cook while stationed at the Army's Fort Drum in New York.

"We didn't go to chow hall, we just cooked for ourselves," he recalled. At the T-N FD, Hall said there are three people on per shift. "You try to make the rookie cook as much as possible, but we rotate pretty evenly," he said.

Although his mac and cheese is the most notable dish, Hall said they do make healthy meals as well as the hearty ones. The people sitting around the table are just as important as what's on the plate, said Hall.

"We're all eating together," he said. "It helps promote family values, helps promote team work."

At the Belmont Fire Department, 20-year veteran Lieutenant Mike Newhall has become known as the meat guy.

"I cook mostly beef – apparently I do one hell of a prime rib. I don't know how it comes out that well, but it does." He has developed a special treatment for the beef that he calls the "Firehouse Rub," which is, "Anything in the cupboard, mix it up and rub it on the roast and put it in the oven."

After doing a job that ranges from stressful, to difficult, to perilous, sitting down for a meal is a welcome comfort.

Said Newhall, "There's a group you that can come together.. It's kind of a family-type environment."

Lieutenant Mike Newhall of Belmont Fire Department is known for his prime rib. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)

Lieutenant Mike Newhall of Belmont Fire Department is known for his prime rib. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)