Judge to decide if New Hampshire man will again face election fraud charges

By Ray Carbone

NEWPORT – The question of whether a Sunapee man will again face criminal charges related to an election fraud case in his town will be determined by how a Newport District Court judge legally interprets his conduct during the incident.

“It’s an interesting case because we’re confronted with what constitutes conduct (according to the law),” commented Judge Gregory E. Michael at a hearing in his court last week.

Joseph Furlong was originally charged with illegally altering an email of another resident, and then sending it out to others, in an attempt to tilt a March 2016 school board election in his wife’s favor. Shortly before Furlong was scheduled to go on trial earlier this year, authorities withdraw the original charges and filed new ones, including forgery. As a result, Judge Michael dismissed all criminal charges, agreeing with Furlong’s attorney that the new ones were different enough from the first that there was not enough time to develop a proper defense.

At last week’s hearing, Judge Michael agreed to reconsider his decision based on a formal request from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office.

(Furlong’s attorney) said that authorities could have done a more thorough investigation initially and that part of the reason for a statute of limitation is to discourage insufficient police work.

James Vera, an associate attorney general, argued that changing the specific criminal charges against Furlong didn’t alter the conduct that implicated him in the criminal behavior. “The state has added no facts that are different (in the new charges),” Vera told the judge. “The arguments are the same and the facts are the same.”

James Rosenberg, Furlong’s attorney, said that since the charges were altered, his defense had to be altered, and that the judge was right in his initial decision to dismiss them because the statute of limitations had run out.

“This is not the same conduct,” Rosenberg said, noting that the original charges did not include information about an alleged accomplice as the later ones did. “You can’t escape the way the state set forth the charges. The state declared, you’re acting alone.”

“Somebody hit the button (to send the email),” Judge Michael commented, adding that whether Furlong actually pushed the “send” button or otherwise played a prominent role in the altered email incident might not be especially significant. “He may have encouraged it or otherwise set in motion,” the judge said, reviewing the state’s argument.

Rosenberg said the original charges indicated that Furlong had “invented” the alleged accomplice as a way to dodge responsibility. He said that authorities could have done a more thorough investigation initially and that part of the reason for a statute of limitation is to discourage insufficient police work.

The central issue is how the court interprets Furlong’s specific conduct, the judge said. If it is basically the same as what’s outlined in the original charges, then the Sunapee man did have enough time to mount a defense and the charges will be reinstated. If not, the court’s dismissal of all charges will stand.

“I’m going to think about this,” Michael added at the hearing’s conclusion. “I’m going to try to be fair, knowing that one side won’t be happy (with my decision).”

The judge said he would issue his ruling as soon as possible.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper in Sutton, N.H. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017.

 

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Adjoining towns, regional planning commission, will be heard about proposed gun facility

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The zoning board of adjustment has decided to invite residents and officials of Hopkinton and Webster, as well as representatives of the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission, to its next public meeting so they can offer input into a proposed $1.4-million, 11,800 square-foot shooting range and retail gun store on Warner Road.

The ZBA approved the idea at its town hall meeting last Wednesday, October 11, after the members began their second review of a zoning variance request from Eric Miller, the Sutton resident who wants to build the facility. The request for the allowable variance was originally approved back by the ZBA in March but a court ruled in July that the board erred when it did not notify several abutters about its original hearing, nor did it consider whether the project could be considered to have “regional impact.” (The latter designation obligates town boards to notify neighboring communities and the planning commission about a proposed project and public hearings about it.)

‘Twenty years ago there was a shooting range right across from the high school and nobody said anything about it.’

– Howard Kirchner,  ZBA member 

The gun store/shooting range proposal has been controversial ever since Miller announced his intentions nearly 10 months ago. Some area residents like the idea, saying there are many gun enthusiasts in the region and the facility will give them a safe place to learn how to improve their skills. Opponents say that the location, roughly three miles from Hopkinton Middle High School, is a poor choice, and that noise and environmental issues could make the operation problematic for the neighborhood.

Most of the legal opposition has come from Norman Carlson, who is founder and CEO of the town’s largest high-tech employer, MadgeTech, Inc.. He has threatened to move his 60-employee plant, adjacent to the Miller’s land, out of town if the project is completed and his Carlson’s business entities have legally challenged almost every aspect of the project, including approvals Miller has won from the ZBA and the planning board. State officials say that Carlson missed out an opportunity to purchase the property, which is adjacent to his plant, during a public bid earlier in the year, and that he inadvertently created the 2.9-acre lot when he mistakenly okayed a tree clearance on the electric company for the land when it was still part of the Davisville State Forest.

At last week’s hearing, Rick Davies, chairman of the ZBA, asked the board’s voting members the question they did not consider at their original hearing in March: Does the proposed facility have a “regional impact?”

Barbara Marty said that it was probably a good idea to let the other communities comment on the project. “I think, being good neighbors, we owe them that,” she said.

“I’m torn,” countered member Howard Kirchner. While he understood people’s concerns, he said that “20 years ago there was a shooting range right across from the high school and nobody said anything about it. This is much safer and much farther away than that.”

Davies pointed out that the question before the board was not on the overall merits of the project but simply whether it could be seen to have regional impact, and therefore trigger invitations to the neighboring towns and the planning commission.

After a brief discussion, the members voted unanimously to support the idea. (The two towns and the commission will have no legal authority at the upcoming meeting to approve or disapprove Warner’s planning decisions.)

The members then adjourned the public hearing with the intention of reconvening it at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, November 8, at 7 pm in the town hall. The ZBA will also hold a site review of the Warner Road property this Thursday (Oct. 19) at 5:30 p.m. but no pubic input will be taken at that time.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

Newbury, NH, needs a new police chief

photo image from the Newbury Police Department’s Facebook page.

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – Robert Lee, who has served as the town’s police for more than a decade, has left his position.

In a “severance agreement and release” document signed by Lee and the board of selectmen in late August, the former chief and the town agreed that he would begin an immediate leave of absence and begin seeking other employment. Town officials agreed to pay Lee $49,000, or about 55-percent of his approximate annual salary of $90,000, which includes 485½ hours of compensation. At a recent selectmen’s meeting, Town Administrator Dennis Pavlicek said that the payment includes some paid vacation time that Lee is owed.

‘Once we look at all the options, we’ll move forward. I think we’ll take action within a month… We’re not going to linger over this or make a knee jerk reaction.’

— Selectman Ed Thorson

Late last week, Ed Thorson, chairman of the board, described Lee’s recent departure as routine” for a small town.

But at a recent board of selectmen’s meeting, more than 20 resident came to express their concerns about Lee and how the town is handling his sudden departure. Afterwards, Thorson said that some people had became agitated by rumors that “got things totally out of proportion,” including the idea that the board was “going to have (all police work) done by New London, that we were throwing up our hands and saying, it’s more trouble than it’s worth (to manage the four-person local police department.)”

At the September 18 meeting, the selectmen laid out their thoughts more accurately.

They said they were planning to meet with New London Police Chief Ed Andersen the next day to discuss a possible intermunicipal agreement that would provide additional coverage for Newbury on a temporary basis, until a replacement for Lee was in place. The tentative deal would cost $20,000 and last until the end of the year, although a clause would allow the town to opt out at a lower cost if the chief’s position is filled sooner.

At the meeting, resident Joanne Lord said that Lee “got paid off” to leave the police department. She later said that Lee and another prominent town employee had frequent disagreements over the years and that the selectmen wanted to resolve the tension by releasing Lee.

Thorson laughed and denied the idea when asked about the rumored conflict.

The selectmen did have a problem with Lee in 2014. At that time, the former chief was suspended for a week by the board. Lee took legal action against the town, claiming in part that his constitutional rights had been violated. In late July 2014, the selectmen agreed to rescind the suspension and replaced it with a written letter of warning in his personnel file. They also paid him for his lost wages as well as $3,500 and his attorney’s fee of $6,712.40.

Town officials cannot comment on either the circumstances surrounding Lee’s sudden departure or the 2014 incident because they are personal issues that are required to be kept confidential.

At the recent board meeting, several people asked the selectmen if they had considered Police Sgt. Brad Wheeler, a Newbury native, to fill the now-vacant chief’s position.

The board indicated that Wheeler, who has been acting chief since Lee’s departure, could be considered.

“We’ve made no decision yet,” Thorson said late last week. “We’re trying to keep all our options open, not excluding or including anybody from consideration.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board decided to postpone its planned meeting with Chief Andersen.

“Once we look at all the options, we’ll move forward,” Thorson said. “I think we’ll take action within a month. We’re not going to linger over this or make a knee jerk reaction.”

The chairman said that he does not believe that the town is not required to make a public job posting for the chief’s position if the selectmen decide to appoint a current police officer, like Wheeler, to the job.

For his part, Wheeler said he’d welcome the opportunity to become Newbury’s new police chief.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on Tuesday, October 11, 2017.

Gov. Sununu appoints new Sunapee boat access group; locals want court to overturn his decision to ditch Wild Goose plan

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – Several local sportsmen associations and at least two residents have mounted a legal challenge to Gov. Chris Sununu’s plan to ditch a long-delayed proposal for building a public access boat launch on Lake Sunapee’s southeast shore.

The governor is moving forward with seeking an alternative to the local site.

Sununu signed an executive order recently that establishes the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission. The group will research and evaluate “alternative opportunities for expansion of boat access at Lakes Sunapee,” according to a press statement issued by his office. It will also consider other uses for the three-acre Wild Goose site that the state purchased for a possible boat ramp in 1990.

The new executive order says that the state’s original plan to build a boat ramp on the 3.3-acre land off Birth Grove Road has “met with significant public opposition, including extensive litigation involving multiple appeals to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.” At a result, according to the order, “it is necessary to assemble a variety of perspectives” before moving forward with both a new lake access plan that will be supported by a majority of the public as well as a new development goal for the Wild Goose property.

“The (F&G) letter charged that ‘a few wealthy individuals’… want to keep the lake ‘as their own private domain.’

The 15-member commission will include two members of the state legislature as well as representatives from the NH Public Water Access Advisory Board, the NH Fish and Game Department, the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES), the NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and residents of New London, Newbury and Sunapee (appointed by those town’s boards of selectmen). Residents and/or shoreline property owners from the same three towns would be chosen by the governor.

On Friday, Ben Vihstadt, the Sununu’s press representative, said the governor has not yet announced members of the commission, but that the group will meet at least once a month with the goal of issuing a report by March 2018.

The idea of developing the Wild Goose site has been debated for decades.

While the state is legally obligated to provide pubic access to Sunapee, many area residents, including both Newbury town officials and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, have long opposed the local project. The opponents argue that there already is adequate public (although not state-owned/operated) access to the lake, and that the local site off Rte. 103 could create significant traffic and environmental issues.

Supporters of the Wild Goose plan say state officials have already approved the Wild Goose site and that the current ramp access points are inadequate.

The state’s courts have twice sided with the supporters, defeating legal challenges to the proposed ramp. However, Sununu may handed the opponents a victory when he decided last month to not seek an annual renewal of the DES wetland permit needed to build a ramp on the site.

“Trying to salvage a flawed and controversial idea that has not gone anywhere in over 20 years and that was left without funding by the legislature is not a viable plan to increase public access on Lake Sunapee,” Sununu said. “My priority remains bringing forward a real proposal that will actually allow Granite Staters greater access to our Lake Sunapee.”

Shortly after the announcement, the fish and game commission took the unusual step of publically asking Sununu to reconsider his decision. The letter charged that the Newbury project was delayed because it’s opposed by “a few wealthy individuals” who own shoreline property near the Wild Goose land and want to keep the lake “as their own private domain.”

Now, the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the NH Bass Federation and others have petitioned the Sullivan County Superior Court to reverse Sununu’s decision, saying that only the DES has the authority to decide on the status of a wetlands permit.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.

 

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