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Dave Solomon's Granite Status: Kenney pushes back against liquor enforcement action

May 14. 2014 11:09PM

Newly elected Executive Councilor Joe Kenney knew he had big shoes to fill in replacing long-time North Country councilor Ray Burton on the five-member body that votes on state contracts and gubernatorial appointees.

After a little more than a month in office, Kenney has already been put to the test.

Burton was renowned for his attention to constituent service, as concerns from Pittsburg to Claremont crossed his desk every week. Kenney says the issues run the gamut, from low-digit license plates to Medicaid eligibility. But one case that’s been brought to his attention really sticks in his craw.

In an unusually frank rendering of the situation for a politician, Kenney says the criminal prosecution of an American Legion Post in Lebanon for illegal gambling is just plain wrong.

As reported by the New Hampshire Union Leader on April 24, a Grafton County Superior Court grand jury indicted the Guyer-Carignan Post 22 for “knowingly and unlawfully conducting gambling activity on the business premises with wagers in excess of $5,000.”

The case stems from a Super Bowl “buy a square” promotion at the Legion Post last February, in which the proceeds would be split between the holder of the winning square and the charities supported by the post.

Based on an anonymous tip, seven officers from the enforcement division of the N.H. Liquor Commission descended on the post on the eve of the Super Bowl, left with more than $15,000 in cash and turned the case over to Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo, who then presented the case to a grand jury.

Whether she intends to take the case to trial or seek an out-of-court settlement remains to be seen. “That is a pending matter, and my ethical and legal obligations prohibit me from talking about a pending case,” she said when reached by phone on Wednesday. “As soon as a matter is resolved, I can talk about it.”

Kenney has touched bases with post officials, their attorney and Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph W. Mollica, who referred him to chief enforcement officer for the NHLC, James Wilson.

“I have not heard back from the enforcement director as to whether he intends to drop this case or let it go forward,” said Kenney. “I was very clear to him that I was not happy, and that the manner in which his department approached this is excessive.”

The Lebanon Legion post ran into a similar problem with its Super Bowl promotion in 2010, but then-chief of Liquor Enforcement Eddie Edwards resolved the matter with administrative, not legal, remedies. Kenney said he is pushing for a similar resolution this time.

“I don’t think it sends a good message to New Hampshire that we suddenly treat our veterans, both men and women, like a bunch of thugs,” he said.

Enforcer turns candidate

Speaking of Eddie Edwards, the outspoken former liquor enforcement officer and now police chief in South Hampton announced on Wednesday that he will be seeking the Republican nomination for state Senate in District 4, consisting of Dover, Somersworth, Barrington and Rollinsford.

Edwards was known for aggressively enforcing liquor laws, with a touch of common sense. Under his watch, the enforcement division was accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, while also receiving the Spirit of America Award from the New Hampshire Grocer’s Association for his collaborative approach.

“I use the above examples of how government can work with the hospitality and retail industries, community organizations, public health and law enforcement to protect community interest without impeding the private sector,” Edwards said. “The goal should be to make regulations as simple as necessary to assist business, protect the public, and encourage government transparency. My priority is to empower individuals to invest in job growth throughout District 4 by reforming regulations that do not meet their stated purpose.”

Edwards left the Liquor Commission after reaching a confidential agreement with commissioners during a time of controversy over his job description. “I think it’s fair to say we haven’t always seen eye to eye on every issue,” Edwards told the Union Leader at the time of his departure.

He has since emerged as one of the key witnesses in the case of Law Warehouses v. the NHLC. Law is suing the state agency, claiming that its bidding process on a 20-year warehousing contract was a sham, and that the fix was in for winning bidder Exel from the get-go.

Edwards, along with former Commissioner Mark Bodi, provided sworn testimony in depositions that supports the Law version of events. Both men are likely to be called to testify should the case go to trial as scheduled in the fall.

Landlord’s dilemma

State Sen. Andy Sanborn, viewed as one of the state’s most conservative senators, has once again found himself in the awkward position of squaring his ownership of a building that houses a head shop with his aggressive anti-drug agenda.

When Phat Stuff first opened at 84 Main St. in Keene back in 2011, the Bedford Republican found himself scrambling for answers as to why he would lease space to a business that sells hookahs, bongs, adult videos and sex toys.

At the time, he said he was misled by the business owners about the true nature of their trade, which wasn’t obvious until the store was open for business. By then, he was bound by the terms of a five-year lease.

“I’ve been pretty clear about my lack of comfort with what he does,” he said of store owner Panos Eliopoulos. Sanborn said last year he asked the store to stop selling a form of synthetic marijuana called “spice.” Keene banned the sale of synthetic marijuana in 2013.

The possibility that the store might still have some “spice” is what drew a group of DEA agents assisted by Keene police to Phat Stuff last week in a nationwide crack down on manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic drugs in more than two dozen states.

All of which once more cast Sanborn’s role of head shop landlord back into the limelight. As of Wednesday, police have made no arrests in the case, and Phat Stuff continues to operate.

“Honestly, I don’t know any more than anyone else,” Sanborn said. “Police are not calling to tell me what’s happening. The DEA is not telling me anything. I’ve spoken to the tenant and he continues to represent to me that he stopped selling that stuff a year ago, when he and I had a conversation and the city passed the ban.”

Sanborn said Eliopoulos has never been late with a rent payment and meets all other terms of the lease. “He knows there are things that are happening there that I don’t like,” Sanborn said. “At the same time, there’s this little thing called the Constitution.”

Headed for a rematch

Sanborn will be facing a familiar foe in any bid for reelection this fall. Lee C. Nyquist, an attorney with the law firm of Shaheen and Gordon, announced on Wednesday that he will seek the Democratic nomination to run again against Sanborn in District 9.

Sanborn and Nyquist squared off in 2012 in an extremely close race that was finally decided after a recount gave Sanborn a 213-vote margin, out of more than 30,000 votes cast.

The district includes Bedford, New Boston, Mont Vernon, Lyndeborough, Greenfield, Temple, Sharon, Peterborough, Hancock, Dublin, Jaffrey, Troy, Fitzwilliam and Richmond.

“It has been profoundly disappointing to the citizens of District 9 to witness the incumbent’s partisan, ideological, uncompromising and counter-productive representation,” said Nyquist, who promised “bipartisan, non-ideological, collaborative, common sense and work-a-day representation, placing the citizens’ interests first.”

Nyquist, who has lived in New Boston for 25 years, said the 2012 campaign gave him the confidence to try again. “It was New Hampshire’s closest state Senate race and the great showing was the direct result of my supporters’ effort and passion,” he said. “We made a great impact and I promise to work even harder in this campaign if such is possible.”

Nyquist said he would take a bipartisan approach to lawmaking, and pledged not to vote for a sales or income tax.

Ads target Kuster, again

The money just keeps pouring into New Hampshire from third-party groups hoping to influence the outcome of November’s election.

The conservative policy group, American’s For Prosperity, announced another $650,000 television ad buy on Wednesday, with an additional $70,000 for web ads, all targeting incumbent 2nd District Rep. Ann McLane Kuster for her support of Obamacare.

The most recent investment brings the total spent by AFP-NH so far to $3 million, and we are not even at the part of the campaign when people start paying attention.

Americans for Prosperity began running what New Hampshire State Director Greg Moore called “Obamacare accountability” ads in late December, and since then has produced and aired six altogether — three focused on Kuster, two on Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and one on 1st District Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

A day earlier, a group calling itself Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire announced a series of costly, drive-time radio ads targeting three Republican state senators deemed too liberal by the conservative issues advocacy group.

The ads target senators Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, David Boutin of Hooksett and Nancy Stiles of Hampton, calling them “Wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and claiming, “They have consistently tried to pull the wool over their constituents’ eyes. They pretend to be conservative, but they have voted like liberal Democrats on important issues such as Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”

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