By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Questions about what’s been vetted, and who is doing the vetting, are swirling around the proposed $21.5 million sale of the Laconia State School property to a Manchester developer.
The sale is on hold after Laconia officials raised concerns about the developer, Robynne Alexander, and how the state might have vetted the financials Alexander presented.
“City officials haven’t seen the financials,” said Laconia City Manager Kirk Beattie. “All we did was ask the question; have they been vetted in the financial sense.”
Alexander, the lead at Infinite Equities Group LLC, wants to buy the property for $21.5 million and invest another half a billion dollars to develop housing, retail and other things at the site.
The project was tabled last Wednesday in a move by Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, after concerns were raised about Alexander’s prior track record developing property, including years of delay, at least one lawsuit, and tax liens.
Contacted Tuesday, Alexander declined to comment. Her spokesman, Scott Tranchemontange, did not respond to a call or email seeking comment on Wednesday.
Beattie said while the sale of the property is a state matter, it is something Laconia officials will have to deal with for years to come.
“It’s a state sale, but we want to make sure it’s a long-term, successful project, that it’s going to begin and go through to completion,” Beattie said.
So far, the identity of Alexander’s financial backers is a secret. Administrative Services Commissioner Charles Arlinghaus declined to provide InDepthNH.org with the names of the backers when asked this week, saying that is confidential by law until the deal goes through.
Warmington herself may present a potential ethical issue by engaging in the deliberations and votes on the project.
Warmington is an attorney and married to attorney William Christie, a partner at Shaheen and Gordon, the law firm representing the woman suing Alexander over an unrelated Manchester development. As a partner, Christie would receive a portion of the law firm’s total profits. Warmington is a former partner in the firm and is listed on its website as “counsel” to the firm.
Alexander is currently being sued by Marie Ward, who invested $150,000 in Alexander’s “Signature on Elm” project, according to the lawsuit.
The 60,000-square-foot residential and commercial development on Elm Street in Manchester is reportedly now three years behind schedule.
Warmington’s District Director Donnie Spencer told InDepthNH.org this week that the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office recently cleared her to engage in the project deliberations. It is not known who Warmington spoke to at the Attorney General’s Office.
Michael Garrity, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Justice, did not provide any written opinion related to Warmington’s conversation with the Attorney General’s Office, and there is no published opinion regarding Warmington on the Executive Branch Ethics Committee website.
Spencer did not respond to InDepthNH.org’s requests Wednesday seeking a copy of any written statement or opinion clearing Warmington to engage in the vote on the project.
Executive Councilors are subject to the same code of ethics that binds all executive branch officials and state employees. Among those rules is one that bars officials from conflict of interest in cases where they or a spouse or relative might have a financial stake.
“Executive branch officials and classified employees shall avoid conflicts of interest. Executive branch officials and classified employees shall not participate in any matter in which they, or their spouse or dependents, have a private interest which may directly or indirectly affect or influence the performance of their duties.”
Last year, legislation was passed that allowed the governor to sell the Laconia property with the approval of the Executive Council.