Criminal threatening charges dropped, rooster's owner pleads guilty to disorderly conduct

LACONIA — A Lakeport woman who kept a pet rooster at her home on North Street pleaded guilty yesterday in 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, to a charge of disorderly conduct in connection with a confrontation with her neighbors that took place at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting in June, at which the board confirmed its earlier decision barring her from keeping the animal in a residential zone.
Two charges of criminal threatening against Bridgette Leroux, 44, of 58 North St., brought in connection with the same incident, were nol prossed, or dismissed, by the Laconia Police Department prosecutor James Sawyer.
Leroux was fined $1,000, with $750 of the fine suspended by Judge James Carroll, on the condition of one year of good behavior.
In 2014, Jeffrey Leroux purchased the rooster, a bantam - or smaller - breed, as an ornamental bird, at the Sandwich Fair as pet for his wife, who dubbed him "Pecker." When neighbors complained about his crowing to the Planning Department, Director Shanna Saunders ruled the Lerouxes could not keep poultry in a residential zone. The Lerouxes sought a variance, which was denied by the ZBA in April.
When the zoning board members met at the Belknap Mill in June, they reaffirmed the original decision, prompting Bridgette Leroux to turn in anger on her neighbors, Dan and Amanda Ouelette, who were seated several rows behind her. Seeking to restore order, Steve Bogert, chairman of the zoning board, warned Leroux if she persisted he would have her removed. In the meantime, Saunders called the police.
In July, the Ouelettes were granted a temporary restraining order forbidding the Lerouxes from contacting or communicating with them. In seeking the order, they recalled the confrontation at the zoning board meeting, alleging that Jeffrey Leroux threatened to damage their property and Bridgette Leroux threatened to physically harm them. Moreover, they told the court they had spoken with the police about the incident at the mill as well as another incident two nights later, when they called 911 to report disruptive behavior on the part of the Lerouxes.
Bridgette Leroux was then charged by police with disorderly conduct and she was also charged with criminal threatening.
Jeffrey Leroux said at the hearing on the restraining order sought by the Ouelettes that Pecker had been moved to Center Harbor, where he is living on the 57-acre farm owned by his father.

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Councilors give endangered oak tree a big hug

LACONIA — City councilors last night by a 5-1 margin gave a hug to an endangered oak tree on Union Avenue by passing a resolution to have the sidewalk at the base of the 14-foot-diameter tree removed in order to improve the chance the tree will survive well into the future.
Earlier this month Cafua Management Inc., owner of the lot between Dunkin' Donuts and Dairy Queen where a commercial building was recently constructed, asked the Planning Board for approval to remove the tree, which it claims poses a safety hazard.
Council members, who said they have seen the proposal to have the tree removed opposed by many of their constituents as well as the city's Heritage Commission, said they would like to take action now to have the sidewalk removed so that work which might help save the tree can be undertaken before the ground freezes.
They also agreed to a suggestion by Mayor Ed Engler to have City Manager Scott Myers draft a resolution that they can take up at their December meeting which would express their support for having the tree saved.
''I'd like to see it there another 10 to 15 years,'' said Ward 3 Councilman Henry Lipman, who made the motion to have the sidewalk removed immediately. City officials say the roots of the tree, which have been paved over, grow amid sewer, drainage and gas lines.
Ward 6 Councilor Armand Bolduc said he thinks the tree may not last as long as Lipman hopes, as he fears the tree is rotting from the inside out.
"When the center of the tree goes, it won't be long," he said.
But Bolduc supported attempts to save it, as did Ward 2 Councilor David Bownes, who said, "Do something now. There's a lot of sentiment to save the tree.''
The request to fell the tree will be presented to Technical Review Committee, whose members represent various city departments, on Dec. 9, which will then submit a report to the Planning Board. The Planning Board may require Cafua Management to pay a professional arborist to assess the condition of the tree, as well as a traffic engineer to determine if the tree obscures the line of sight along Union Avenue.
Meanwhile, the site plan for the commercial building, which was approved by the Planning Board, shows the tree standing entirely within the lot owned by Cafua Management Inc. However, a portion of the trunk is within a short stretch of sidewalk belonging to the city. In other words, the trunk of the tree appears to straddle the property line.
In September, when it was first reported that Cafua Management Inc. inquired about removing the tree, Arthur Costonis, who described himself as an arborist, told the Planning Department that the tree is healthy, but recommended removing the pavement covering its exposed roots and replacing it with loam, as well as fertilizing the tree by injecting nutrients around its roots.

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Guarino in, Hatch in as Gilmanton chairman over taxes

GILMANTON — With the tax rate up $3.01 and the bills in the hands of homeowners, residents are screaming at selectmen for heads to roll, and the first one appears to be that of former Selectboard Chairman Don Guarino.
Guarino was voted out as chairman at the end of a loud and contentious meeting that started with him questioning the process by which the town will hire a engineer for a bridge projected and ended with a screaming match between Town Administrator Paul Branscombe, Guarino, and newly elected chairman Rachel Hatch over the preparation of the 2015 budget.
According to a recording of the meeting, former Town Administrator Arthur Capello may have underestimated the revenue for the 2015 tax year. Guarino said Branscombe had an opportunity to fix it by changing the estimate prior to the state Department of Revenue setting the rate.
The rate increased from $22.93 in 2014 to $25.94 in 2015. The town rate was up from $4.10 to $5.51, the county rate went up from $1.34 to $1.36, and the school rate went up from $14.82 to $16.73 or $1.91. Total property valuation was up from $447,518,768 to $450,393,371.
Guarino said that in many instances the state notices a gross discrepancy and contacts the town administrator for clarification. If the Department of Revenue didn't call, he said at the meeting, when Branscombe was told the preliminary tax rate was up by so much, he should have taken the initiative to call and learn why.
Branscombe, who was hired at the end of July, fired back by saying he was sick of being blamed for all of the problems in town when he had only been on the job for less than four months. He said the Gilmanton finance director was ready to quit because she was sick of doing research into last year's budget preparation.
During the argument, he said that during his attempts to determine what went wrong in formulating last year's tax rate and trying to determine the 2016 tax rate he realized all of the revenue numbers keep coming up "minus." He continually said the entire matter was "ridiculous."
Branscombe gave the example that the estimated automobile registration tax revenues for Gilmanton was $369,544.
"We've already collected $603,000 year-to-date," he said, speculating aloud that maybe the former town administrator made a mistake and used the 2014 July 1 revenue total for an estimate instead of projecting it for the whole year.
While Branscombe and Guarino continued to argue about who should have done what and when they should have done it, Hatch stepped in and said she was sick of Guarino blaming Branscombe for all of the problems in town and for constantly contacting Capello at his new job.
After yelling at Guarino for a while about his continued contact with the former town administrator, Hatch finally said that they should adjourn the meeting and allow cooler heads to prevail at a future meeting.
Up to that point, Selectman Michael Jean had sat quietly, watching and listening. He said he was ready to make a motion and while all thought he was going to move to adjourn, he moved that Guarino be removed as chairman and Hatch be installed. At that point, the tape went silent for about 10 seconds.
During discussion of the motion, which was just a continuation of the shouting match, Hatch said she would second the motion to remove Guarino. With Guarino abstaining, the motion passed.
After taking care of a small piece of immediate business, the board voted to adjourn for the night. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 30 in the board meeting room.

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Bail revoked for man who allegedly sold drugs to Tilton man who died of overdose

LACONIA — A Belknap County Superior Court judge revoked the bail of the Northfield man accused of selling the heroin/fentanyl combination of drugs that allegedly caused the death of 21-year-old Seth Tilton-Fogg of Tilton.
Brian Watson, 50, whose last known address was Hodgdon Road, was free $25,000 cash bail that had been posted by a woman of the same last name from Hooksett.
The court determined that Watson violated the terms of his bail conditions by being in the presence of his girlfriend Teanna Bryson after he had been ordered not to have a contact with her. According to the state's motion to revoke bail, Watson was stopped by police who said Bryson was in his car and trying to hide under some items in the back seat during a police stop.
Watson's hearing was initially scheduled for last Friday; however, it was postponed because Bryson's attorney said she had an infection in her foot, needed medical attention, and was going to be taken to the hospital.
At yesterday's hearing, Bryson was not available for medical reasons and was unable to testify about a second bail revocation matter that alleged Watson was driving Bryson to Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Manchester and buying her heroin on the way home.
Bryson has been given immunity from prosecution regarding the death of Tilton-Fogg by the Belknap County Attorney's Office. She has been ordered by the court to make herself available for testifying at any hearing or trial ordered by the court.
When Bryson is available, the court said Watson could ask for a second bail hearing. For now, he is being held without bail at the Belknap County House of Corrections.

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