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City says Tardif doesn't realize Right-to-Know was re-written in 1991

LACONIA — At a hearing in Carroll County Superior Court this week, counsel for the city called a lawsuit brought by Tom Tardif charging the City Council violated the the Right -to-Know Law "frivolous" and asked the court to dismiss it and order Tardif to reimburse the city for legal expenses.

On learning that in October the council twice met in non-public sessions to consider the future of the Belknap Mill, Tardif requested the minutes of the meeting, but was informed that the council voted to seal them from public view. In a private e-mail to Tardif, Mayor Ed Engler explained that both 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."

Undeterred, Tardif 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 and order the disclosure of minutes that fail to qualify as exceptions. At the same time, Tardif charged that the council failed to follow the prescribed procedure when convening the non-public sessions by neither taking nor recording a roll call vote to enter the non-public meeting. He asked the court to require the councilors, city manager and city clerk to undergo remedial training in the administration of the Right-to-Know Law.
In response, Mitchell explained that on both occasions a motion to enter a non-public session to consider "the acquisition, sale or lease" of real property as permitted by the Right-to-Know Law was passed. Role calls votes, which carried unanimously, were taken. However, he acknowledged that the person preparing the minutes neglected to record how each councilor voted. Mitchell argued that this deficiency in the preparation of the minutes should not compel disclosure of the sealed minutes as Tardif appeared to believe.
Furthermore, Mitchell claimed that Tardif's arguments were drawn from an article published in the New Hampshire Bar Journal in 1979 that referred to a version of the Right-to-Know Law that the New Hampshire Legislature changed significantly in 1991. In particular, he said that Tardif referred to what was allowed when conducting "deliberations" in "executive sessions" and noted that conducting deliberations has not been a legitimate reason to enter a non-public session for the last 24 years,

In his pleadings Mitchell reminded the court that Tardif "is not a stupid man" and continued "however, once he obtains the slightest suspicion that someone has committed a wrong of any degree, he apparently loses the simple ability to ask himself "I wonder if the statute has changed in the past 35 years.'" Consequently, Mitchell concluded "he has caused the taxpayers of Laconia to needlessly expend valuable to respond to and defend this action."

Mitchell submitted the minutes of the non-public sessions, together with an affidavit of the clerk who prepared them, and videos of the regular sessions, which record the roll call votes, to the court. Justice Charles Temple took the case under advisement.

The case was moved to Carroll County when Belknap Superior Court cited a conflict of interest.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 12:26

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Community salutes 2 Recovery Court program graduates

LACONIA — One year ago, neither Nicole Center or Shane Mitza thought they'd be the guests of honor in a circuit court room, although both had seen their fair share of the insides of them.

Both, for different reasons, were facing felony convictions and well on their way to jail but for the intervention of Recovery Court — an all volunteer program in Belknap County that allows people who are facing felony charges and who admit that alcohol and drugs are the catalysts for their behavior to enter a comprehensive recovery program in lieu of jail.

"It's been a tough year," said Center yesterday at a well attended Recovery Court graduation ceremony in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, who said she was grateful she got arrested two years ago. "It's weird to say that but my life has changed."

Describing herself as "eternally grateful," Center not only attended 51 counseling sessions, 30 group sessions, and a special weekly counseling session, she did community service and worked a full-time job where she earned two promotions. She is also a single parent.

Shane Mitza, said Horizons Behavioral Health Coordinator Jacqui Abikoff, came into the program with sole goal of getting out and avoiding jail.

"He thought he could beat the system but the system beat him," Abikoff said while Mitza laughed at her observation.

Mitza said he'd been dealing with Judge Jim Carroll for the last 20 years but now "I can face Judge Carroll with pride, not disdain or worry."

"My son told me he thought I'd be dead by now," Mitza said. "Those words really meant something."

He told the crowd of fellow recovery members, dignitaries from the state, county and local government including Sen. Jeanie Forrester and Joe Harding, the director of the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, that once he entered recovery all of his "so-called" friends were gone but now he has new and better friends.

He especially wanted to thank his wife for sticking with him through the lowest points in his life, his father and his children.

Mitza, who did his community service working in maintenance and landscaping at the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, caught the attention of one of the security officers who gave him a job with his landscaping company.

He said he wanted to thank him and a second friend who also stood by him giving him rides, and occasionally money, to see him and his family through some rough times.

He said the entire recovery court team "helped him become the person he always wanted to be."

This is the second year of Recovery Court, which is called Drug Court in the other nine New Hampshire counties. Judge Carroll wanted his court to focus on recovery and thought that's what he would call it. It is the only "drug" court in the state without any public funding.

Carroll, who was overwhelmed with emotion during the graduation ceremony, said Mitza and Center have been stellar during their year with him. He said he saw Mitza at Mitza's son's high school graduation where he said Mitza told him that in his former life he probably wouldn't have remembered it.

Carroll said that not only did Center and Mitza go through recovery but their families and their community went through it with them and had their backs during it.

Keynote speaker Joe Harding, who is also the director of the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery, told the audience that one of his goals is preventing addiction problems before they begin.

He said prevention starts with doctors and physicians who can get to people before they become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Acknowledging he began recovery 26 years ago, he said he may have once been a candidate for a Recovery Court. He said the cycle begins when people become disconnected, more distant and more likely to use drugs and alcohol.

"Desperate people do desperate things and they end up in our judicial system," he said.

He said Abikoff's earlier plea for money from the federal and/or state government would probably fall on deaf ears.

Noting all of the community leaders who came to court to support Mitza and Center, he said the local community needs to take this program, raise the issues of drug and alcohol abuse and kept them in the forefront.

Judge Carroll said we all live one day at a time. Paraphrasing an article he said he had read over the weekend, Carroll noted that we all live "one day at a time."

He said yesterday is gone forever and nobody knows what tomorrow will bring so today is all we have — but today can be life-changing.

Recognition also went to Judge Williard "Bud" Martin who, through the Annette P. Schmitt Trust Fund made some money available to Horizons Counseling Center to keep the treatment portion of the program going.

He also thanked Harding who was able to defer some of the costs of the Nathan Brody Program to make the program affordable and accessible for those who need it.

Abikoff announced that Mitza and Center both entered the program on the same date and both have agreed to stay on a mentors for those who come after.

Recovery Court meets weekly at noon and a made possible through the private efforts and time of Judge Carroll, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, Restorative Justice Program Director Brian Loanes, Laconia City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, the Public Defenders Office headed by lead attorney Jesse Friedman, Department of Corrections Superintendent Daniel Ward, the N.H. Department of Probation and Parole whose local office is headed by Serene Eastman, and Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center in Gilford.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 12:19

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Gilmanton selectman guilty of forging vehicle inspection sticker

GILMANTON — Selectman Donald Guarino pleaded guilty in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division last month to a violation level charge of forging a vehicle inspection sticker.

When reached by The Daily Sun yesterday, Guarino said, "I made a mistake. I pleaded guilty and I paid my fine."

According to paperwork filed with the court, Guarino was driving a gray pickup on July 24, 2014 at 12:54 p.m. and failed to stop or yield on Route 11 (Main Street) in Alton.

He was stopped by a N.H. State Police Officer who noticed an inspection sticker irregularity. Guarino was initially charged with a Class B misdemeanor and released on personal recognizance bail.

On December 4, 2014, Guarino pleaded guilty to a violation level offense of forging an inspection sticker as well as the failure to yield or stop traffic offense.

He was fined $300 with $100 suspended pending one year of good behavior for the inspection sticker and $100 — all suspended — for the failure to yield or stop violation.

His fines were paid in full on that day.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 11:53

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New era in county government starts today with commissioners staking out ambitious agenda

LACONIA — New Belknap County Commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) were sworn in yesterday morning at the Belknap County Courthouse and have released an ambitious agenda for their first meeting at 9 a.m. today at the Belknap County Complex.

The third seat on the commission is vacant following the resignation of Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), who had two years remaining on his term but said he could not work with the new commissioners.
The agenda reflects the new commissioners' expressed intentions to overturn many of the policies and actions taken by the outgoing commissioners and to bring an end to the legal battles over line item budget authority between the commission and the state lawmakers who comprise the county convention.
The agenda calls for the reinstatement of Mathew Logue as administrator of the Belknap County Nursing Home and the withdrawal of a legal appeal filed by the outgoing commissioners with the New Hampshire Supreme Court of the county convention's Personnel Committee earlier decision to reinstate Logue after he was fired in late August.
It also calls for the law firm of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella, which represented the commission in its legal battle with the county convention over line item budget authority, to file a consent decree with Belknap County Superior Court which concurs with the decision by Judge James O'Neil III to issue a temporary injunction which prevented commissioners from transferring more than $300 between budget line items without approval of the convention's Executive Committee.

The former commissioners had been preparing to have the firm argue the case on its merits in February in Belknap County Superior Court.
The new commissioners have also asked that budget transfer requests which will be presented to the county's Executive Committee next Monday include $5,200 to pay legal fees incurred by former Belknap County Register of Deeds Barbara Luther in 2011 when she was sued by the commission in an effort to make her comply with recommendations made by an auditing firm hired by the county. In 2013 the county convention appropriated $5,200 to pay Luther's fees but the former commissioners refused to authorize payment.
Other transfer requests listed on the agenda include $260 for filing Superior Court cases on behalf of the convention as well as requests from former convention chairperson Colette Worsman and former vice chairman Bob Greemore, both of Meredith, to be paid for two Personnel Committee meetings and from Lakes Region Public Access TV to be paid for recording a Personnel Committee meeting.
The agenda makes no mention of other transfer requests but there is one major item still pending, a request for the transfer of $33,000 to pay the county's unpaid legal bills, which as of December 17 totaled $31,673. The Executive Committee has twice refused to approve transfers to pay the bills, which include bills from the Upton and Hatfield law firm which was hired by the Personnel Committee, as well as the law firms representing the commissioners.
Another agenda item calls for a strategy for jail improvements and hiring a consultant to assist the commissioners and the creation of full-time position within the Department of Corrections which would be responsible for the development and implementation of programs and for making program rooms in the so-called executive wing of the county complex available to the Department of Corrections, an approach favored by Commissioner DeVoy, who has called for converting that wing into housing for female prisoners.
The new commissioners also plan to issue a series of statements on the role of the county commissioners, the structure of county government and on public relations on county matters, the county bidding process and on copying fees charged by the county as well as budgetary philosophy and on the policy of spreading the cost of executive functions across county departments.
Commissioners plan to appoint a temporary legal counsel and have scheduled a non-public meeting to discuss a personnel matter.
DeVoy defeated Dave Pollack (D-Laconia) for the commission seat held by Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who did not seek re-election, while Burchell won election without a contest after defeating incumbent Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) in the September Republican primary.
The convention is expected to name a new commissioner to replace Nedeau, who must be from one of the towns of Meredith, Center Harbor, Gilford or Alton, sometime later this month.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) has said that the convention will advertise for applicants for the position and hold public interviews with potential candidates before making a decision.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 11:44

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