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Solicitation ordinance would ground GFD 'boot drives'

GILMANTON — Selectmen have put off action on a proposed ordinance which would have put an end to a fundraising activity conducted by a local firefighters' organization.

The action came as about 50 residents turned out for a public hearing on the proposal which would prohibit soliciting funds within the right-of-way of any roadway in town. Most of those attending were opposed to the ordinance which would put a stop to so-called "boot drives" conducted by the Gilmanton Fireman's Association, which the group holds to raise funds for certain improvements to Fire Department facilities as well as to provide life safety equipment for town facilities and certain civic organizations.

During the fundraising events, firefighters stand on the side of roadways asking motorists to drop bills and change into an empty rubber boot.

Selectmen said they decided to propose the ordinance after they received an e-mail from resident Israel Willard inquiring who would be liable if someone were to be injured while the boot drives were under way at the four-way intersection of Routes 140 and 107 during weekends when NASCAR races take place in July and September at the nearby New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I'm not against the boot drive," said Selectman Stephen McCormack. "I'm just looking at the safety issues. It's appropriate for us to look at this issue."

Selectmen said the town's insurer advised that the town needed to consider several matters, including the volume and potential speed of traffic during the boot drives, and the traffic control system that is in use at the time.

Responding to a question from the audience Selecboard Chairman Brett Currier said that the board had not discussed the matter with the Police Department, or with the Firemen's Association, which is has been sponsoring the boot drives for 20 years.

Firemen's Association member Vinnie Baiocchetti told selectmen that they needed to consider what the association is able to do for the town with the money raised during the boot drives. He said that some of the money has been used to buy defibrillators which have been placed in the Academy Building, the Year-Round Library and Gilmanton School. He said other funds have been donated to the Boy Scouts.

"I understand you don't like the boot drive, but we do give back to the community," Baiocchetti said.

Currier acknowledged that he did not like the boot drives. "It makes it look like we don't fund the (Fire) Department adequately, and we do," he said.

Association President Dennis Comeau said that the boot drive was a way to collect money from visitors, rather than all the money having to come from local residents.

Comeau was among many in the audience who criticized the selectmen with trying to enact an ordinance without first taking the time to research the situation and getting advice from others, like the Firemen's Association.

"A lot of this could have been avoided with a few simple questions and answers," he said.

Not all the public comments were in favor of the boot drive. Douglas Islied of Gilmanton Iron Works urged that the town broaden the ordinance to ban all types of panhandling along the highways and roads.

Selectman Donald Guarino proposed tabling the ordinance soon after the meeting opened, but withdrew his motion to allow those that showed up for the hearing to make comment. After about one hour of hearing from the audience selectmen voted to table the ordinance until they had a chance to talk to the Firemen's Association and the town's attorney.

Some at the hearing suggested that rather than having an ordinance banning boot drives altogether, they should rather look at establishing a permit system that would provide a procedure to give the town assurance that the necessary safety precautions were being taken.

Mark Sisti, who serves as town moderator, told selectmen that they should be focused on more important issues.

"This is not a big deal. This is petty stuff," he said.

He also mentioned that boot drives are a common fund-raising activity among fire departments and firefighter groups all over the country. "It doesn't cheapen the town," he remarked.

After the hearing Comeau said he was confident that the Firemen's Association and selectmen "can work this out." He was grateful to the association supporters who showed up at the hearing and raised valid points which he was confident the selectmen will be pondering and they consider what steps to take.


Last Updated on Saturday, 08 November 2014 01:58

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Gilford shuts down nightclub for safety code violations; manager questions timing

GILFORD — The Lakes Region Cafe and Tavern closed at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, election day, when the Deputy Chief Brad Ober of the Gilford Fire Department revoked its assembly permit.

The action by the Fire Department was taken two weeks after Will Drew — the owner of the property, but not the owner of the business — filed suit in United States District Court against the state of New Hampshire and the town of Gilford, along with half a dozen agents of each, charging that their actions before and after October 18, 2011 when the New Hampshire Drug Task Force raided the nightclub, which was then operating under independent management as Mardi Gras North, violated his constitutional rights and damaged his reputation.

Although Drew, doing business as Kelsey's at the Grant, owns the property at 15 Kimball Road, his partner Tom Lyons owns and operates the business, a restaurant and bar featuring exotic dancing, on the premisses.

Zachary Joseph, the general manager of the business, said that officials of the Fire Department inspected the building last summer and cited a number of violations, some minor and some major. He said that the minor infractions were corrected in a timely manner.

According to Joseph, the Fire Department recognized that addressing the major issues would require significant investments of time and money and required the owner to submit a "course of action" by October 28, which specified when the building would be brought into compliance. In the meantime, he said, the business would be allowed to continue operating. Joseph noted that many of the conditions cited in the inspection had persisted for years without prompting action by the town.

Joseph said that the "course of action" was submitted on October 27, a day before the deadline, and a week later the assembly permit was revoked. He is urging patrons of the nightclub to attend the meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday , November 12 to show their support for the establishment. (See letter to the editor on page 5.)

In his lawsuit Drew alleges that town officials, town administrator Scott Dunn in particular, wrongfully sought to deny him the live entertainment license required to offer exotic dancing at the property.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 November 2014 01:54

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Sanbornton saying goodbye to gracious former Selectboard Chair Patsy Wells

SANBORNTON — Patricia "Patsy" Wells idea of service knew no bounds, say those who knew her. Whether as member of the town's Board of Selectmen, an active member of her church, the assistant to four Tilton School headmasters, or her outreach to women prisoners, Wells is remembered as competent, forward-looking, and above all, gracious.

Wells died last Saturday, Oct. 29, at the age of 69. Her funeral is planned for this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Sanbornton Congregational Church.

"I had a soft spot in my heart for her," said Guy Giunta who served with Wells for two years (2005-06) on the Board of Selectmen. "My memories of her are as one who was devoted to the town." He remembers Wells as an effective and visionary leader. He said one example of Wells' vision was the leadership she showed in building public support for the so-called Y Project, which resulted in major improvements to Upper and Lower Bay roads which needed serious work.

She exhibited a thorough knowledge of the selectman's job. "She kept us on our toes," Giunta recalled with a chuckle. "But she wasn't one to make herself look important." One sign of that, he said was that when Wells was head selectmen, she didn't in the center seat at the selectmen's table, as is customary for the chair to do.

Giunta also said he remembers Wells as a person deeply committed to her faith and her church.

"She was a hard worker and was always able to lighten up a difficult situation," said Dennis Akerman, director of music at the Sanbornton Congregational Church where Wells was a long-time active member. She served on the church committee that had charge the congregation's charitable outreach.

Akerman's wife, Barbara, said Wells was truly concerned about those less fortunate or who had to cope with setbacks in life. For example, she said Wells would to the state Women's Prison to give sewing lessons. "She found what was needed and how to do it."

Michael Baker, headmaster at Tilton School from 1987 to 1995, said it is hard to imagine how he could have done his job as effectively without Wells as his assistant.

"She was one of the kindest people I ever met in my life," he said. And one of the most discrete.

"My first day at Tilton she met with me and said, 'The main word of secretary is secret.' She could be trusted with anything." And, "She was scrupulously organized."

Baker said that Wells' sense of organization and her know-how gave him the ability to focus on his job. A big part of a private school headmaster's job is fund-raising, which Baker said meant he had to travel a lot to meet with school alumni and other potential donors.

"Often at these fund-raising gatherings someone would ask, 'Who's in charge of the place when you're gone?' and I would reply, 'The same person who's in charge when I'm there." Baker said his audience knew he was referring to himself, but in the back of his mind he couldn't help but think of Patsy Wells. "She easily could have run her own operation."

Former Selectman Steve Ober, who served with Wells during her last year on the board, credits Wells for showing him how to be a good selectman.

"I had no clue about the job," Ober recalled. "But she guided me right into the job and did it respectfully. She was a great person and great friend."

Last Updated on Friday, 07 November 2014 01:51

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Former home of Music Festival vandalized

CENTER HARBOR — Police are seeking assistance from the public in identifying two individuals who vandalized the property at 52 Symphony Lane, which most recently housed the New Hampshire Music Festival.

According to Police Chief Mark Chase, evidence collected at the scene indicates that two persons broke into the main house and an outbuilding and caused damage to both estimated at approximately $10,000. The break-in and vandalism occurred between Tuesday, August 12 and Thursday, August 14.

The owner of the property has offered a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact the Center Harbor Police Department at 253-9756. All information will be kept strictly confidential.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 November 2014 01:33

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