Over Burchell's objection, commission puts Shackett in charge of hiring for county finance department

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday morning to put County Administrator Deborah Shackett in charge of the Finance Department and to give her the authority to hire workers without prior approval of the commissioners.
The actions comes in the wake of two recent resignations from the Finance Department, Director Glen Waring who left in March and assistant finance director Marie Mora who left earlier this month. That left only one person, who is in charge of payroll, in the department.
The county has been advertising to fill the finance director's position by reclassifying it to an account manager position but as yet has not filled it.
Both Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) supported the move, which was opposed by Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton).
Taylor pointed out that Shackett had previous experience at running the Finance Department and would have the same ability to fill positions in the department without commissioner approval as is the current practice for the county Corrections Department and the Nursing Home.
Burchell said that it was ''a gradual retreat'' from positions the commission had previously taken regarding its authority in directing the operations of county government.
He has been at odds with his fellow commissioners ever since late January and was removed from his position as chairman of the commission by them at a stormy meeting on March 2.
When he and DeVoy took office in early January it was announced at the first meeting that commissioners would not be delegating their authority to appointed employees and that all department heads would report directly to them. Burchell said at that time that the Administration Department headed by Shackett would serve in a support role.
Burchell split with his fellow commissioners in February over the proposed county budget. He proposed his own idea for a budget, which among other things would have achieved savings by eliminating the county administrator's position.
He has long been at odds with Shackett and in an e-mail to members of the Belknap County Convention seeking support for his proposed reorganization of county government was critical of both Shackett and Waring.
But his proposal drew no support from his fellow commissioners, who said that he appeared to be pursuing a personal grudge that they wanted no part of.
Commissioners learned yesterday that there will be another employee leaving the county. Angela Bovill, administrative assistant in Shackett's office, who has been hired by the town of Gilford as administrative assistant to Town Administrator Scott Dunn.
DeVoy said that he expects that Shackett will have a list of proposed members of a Criminal Justice Committee ready for the next meeting of the commission on May 6. The committee will review the county criminal justice system in preparation for the anticipated creation of a new community corrections facility.

She is aiding Corrections Department Superintendent Dan Ward and Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin in finding people who will serve on the committee.

Center Harbor settles lawsuit brought be former fire chief John Schlemmer

CENTER HARBOR — The town has settled its dispute with former Fire Chief John Schlemmer, who filed suit alleging wrongful dismissal and claiming back wages after the chief and selectmen abruptly parted company in June 2013.

Without either party admitting wrongdoing, the settlement provides for the town to pay Sclemmer a series of payments totaling $135,000 for damages and wages during the next three years. In addition, attorney Anne Rice, who represented Schlemmer, received $49,137 in fees and costs. According to the settlement, after two years Schlemmer can apply to rejoin the Fire Department, but if he is not hired, he may not claim the decision was motivated by the litigation.

Sclemmer joined the Fire Department as a call firefighter in 2006 and a year later was appointed chief. The position was classified as part-time and budgeted at 20 hours per week. However, Schlemmer claimed that with his administrative responsibilities, fire inspections, training exercises and fire calls he regularly worked more than 20 hours a week. He claimed that he was not paid for all the hours worked or paid time-and-a-half for overtime. Nor did the town enroll him in the New Hampshire Retirement System or make contributions towards his benefits.

After several failed attempts to resolve the issue, Schlemmer approached the selectmen in June, 2013 and was directed to limit his hours to 28 per week. He went directly to the secretary of the Selectboard, told her he could not work under those conditions and requested an immediate meeting with the selectmen. At an emergency meeting later the same day the selectmen wrote Schlemmer to "confirm your verbal resignation as fire chief".

That same evening, after accepting what they took to be Schlemmer's resignation, the selectmen met with a dozen call firefighters who urged them to resolve their differences with Schlemmer. Selectman Harry Viens spoke with Schlemmer who informed him that he had retained an attorney.

"The threat of a lawsuit has thrown a blanket on the whole thing," Viens told the selectboard.

Within a week the selectboard named Leon Manville interim chief.

Caboose does not make for good neighbors

LACONIA — With construction of the second phase of the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail about to begin, a caboose that has sat on a spur line behind 100A New Salem Street for the past 16 years may finally find a new home.

"This may be the last opportunity to get that thing out of here," said Dave Gammon, who with his sister owns the property at 100A New Salem Street, which houses a consignment store.

The caboose is the property of his neighbor, Richard Mitchell, who owns and operates Pitman's Freight Room, next door.

"I realize I have to do something with the caboose ," Mitchell conceded yesterday.

The second phase of the recreation trail, from the Laconia Public Library to the Belmont Town Line, will follow the railway through a narrow corridor from Veterans Square, along New Salem Street and past Pitman's.

Long at odds over the presence of the caboose, Gammon and Mitchell are as close as neighbors can be. Their buildings are attached with a shared brick wall. The railroad line runs southwest, along Mitchell's lot, then, where the two lots meet, a spur line runs westward at the rear of Gammon's lot, ending abruptly at the corner of his building.

In 1999, Mitchell, who uses the railroad right-of-way adjacent to his building for parking, placed the caboose on the spur line along side Gammon's building. It has remained there ever since. Gammon said the caboose sits just five feet from his building and within two feet of its roofline. Stormwater run-off from the caboose, he said, has damaged the brickwork on the corner of his building. Gammon calls the caboose a "grudge fence".

Earlier this month, plans for the WOW Trail presented to the Planning Board indicated that what remains of the spur line would be removed, which would require moving the caboose, which would otherwise be stranded on isolated track.

Fearing the WOW Trail will have an adverse impact on his business, Mitchell said that "if I can stop it going through there, I will." However, at the same time, he said that he has spoken to officials of the N.H. Bureau of Rail and Transit about keeping the spur open. Brian Lombard, an engineer with the bureau, said yesterday that the design of this stretch of the WOW Trail, which will require the city to secure a lease from the bureau, has not been completed and the future of the spur has not been determined.

Meanwhile, Jay Poulin of HEB Engineers, Inc., who is designing the trail, told Lombard that Mitchell "has expressed an interest in keeping the siding track in place so that he can move the caboose out from the back of his building if and when he needs to." Likewise, Gretchen Gandini, executive director of the WOW Trail recalled discussion of leaving the spur line in place and accommodating the trail to it.

According to Gammon, Mitchell's lease with the Bureau of Rail and Transit to use the track to house the caboose expired in 2004 and the Governor and Executive Council declined to renew it. On two occasions, in 2004 and again in 2006, Gammon said that Carol Murray, then commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, found that Mitchell had no legal agreement to use the track and referred the matter to the Attorney General's Office, apparently without result. Gammon also claims the Bureau of Rail and Transit informed him that there is no record of Mitchell paying the annual fee of $986 to lease the track since his lease expired.

"He's trespassing (on state land)," Gammon said.

Mitchell declined to comment about his relationship with the Bureau of Rail and Transit, but repeated that he must make arrangements for the caboose, while adding that he has "no immediate plans to move it".

Blasting along Rte. 3 in Belmont necessary to make way for construction of new Goodwill store

BELMONT — Police are warning residents who will be traveling along Rte. 3 near the Belknap Mall that there will be blasting during the week, beginning Thursday morning and ending on May 29.

Hiltz Construction Co., which is the general excavating contractor for a project that will ultimately see a new 13,000-square-foot Goodwill Store and a second 8,400-square-foot-retail store that is yet to have a tenant on the site of the former Belknap Subaru dealership, is leveling the property.

During the blasting times, police said there will be temporary stoppages for about 5 to 7 seven minutes around 10 a.m. in the morning and again around 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

The roads that will be affected are Rte. 3, Ladd Hill Road, Durette Road and Old State Road. The shut down, said police, is to ensure no errant debris affects passing motorists.

Uniformed officers along with flaggers will bring traffic to a stop a few minutes before the blast and reopen the road way immediately after getting the all clear signal.

Advisory signs have been posted and motorists are encouraged to seek other routes.

According to Belmont Planning Director Candace Daigle, the blasting is to remove enough ledge to allow the company a level footprint for the new building.

She said Hiltz also plans on boring its way under Route 3 to the Belmont Mall to connect to electrical services.

"The boring is going to be pretty cool," she said. "They believe with the newest technology they have they can do it in one day."


CUTLINE: Excavators and dump trucks from Hiltz Construction remove rock and soil from the site of a new 16,000-square-foot Goodwill building yesterday afternoon. Beginning tomorrow, there will be blasting and motorists can expect delays around 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)