Upheaval at Youth Services

In May, longtime Andover Youth Services Director Bill Fahey was fired for misconduct. The town commissioned a $13,425 investigation into accusations originally made by a former AYS employee. The former worker was underage at the time of the alleged incidents and came forward to the Essex County District Attorney’s office. There was nothing illegal about Fahey’s conduct, but it was found to be unprofessional.

After a months-long public records battle, a redacted copy of the investigative report was gained by The Eagle-Tribune. Within the document other concerns at AYS were detailed, which led to a variety of changes.

More public records, this time of Fahey’s text messages, revealed potentially illegal payments from the Andover Youth Foundation to Fahey and other AYS staff. The four remaining full-time staff members resigned — citing a “toxic work environment” — shortly after the Select Board announced an investigation into those payments.

The board launched a $31,556.50 investigation into the workplace environment. Ultimately the investigator said she didn’t find any issues that rose to the level of workplace harassment. Instead, she suggested training for staff at all levels could remedy the situation.

Throughout the year community response has varied, with some residents rallying behind the now-former AYS staff members by placing signs of support in their yards and making regular appearances at town meetings.

The investigation into the payments from the foundation is ongoing.

Fahey is currently suing the town for unlawful termination and defamation.

Town officials have hired a temporary staff at AYS and appointed a committee to determine the future of the program and hire a new director.

— Madeline Hughes

Birthday bash

Typical anniversary celebrations on May 6, Andover’s founding date, were scrapped because of pandemic-related restrictions. However, the 375th Anniversary Committee planned a whole year of festivities in the form of concerts, public art and other events.

In September, the Andover Thrives Community Day was a smashing success, according to committee members.

It was a year to explore the town’s past with the Andover Center for History and Culture’s “Shawsheen: A Village Transformed” exhibit.

— Madeline Hughes

Students push for change

For years Andover’s Destination Imagination teams by Challenge Me, Inc. have dominated in competitions. In 2020 high school students on the Andover Animal Advocates team identified all of the endangered species in town. Then they spread the word about the 29 species.

This year for their project they have been working to make one of those endangered species — the blue-spotted salamander — Massachusetts’ state amphibian.

The students partnered with state Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover, to craft the legislation.

The students not only educated Andover residents about the salamanders through forums and in classrooms, but also reached out to environmental student groups across the state.

Students’ hope promoting the blue-spotted salamander as the state amphibian would give their peers across Massachusetts the ability to learn about them as an endangered species close to home. Then the more people know about these animals, the more likely they are to protect them.

Students on the team and others they rallied from across the state testified in favor of the bill for the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight in November.

Currently the bill remains in committee, but 11 other state representatives have signed the legislation along with Nguyen.

— Madeline Hughes


‘Drag Story Time’ draws attention

Some division came over the summer when Taylor Library planned to host a “Drag Story Time” featuring “Miss Clara Divine,” presented by entertainer Michael McMahon. Some people said the event would not be suitable for the local library and it was eventually cancelled. But Tupelo Music Hall stepped in to offer space for the event, which drew a big crowd in the music venue’s parking lot as “Miss Clara” sang, danced and told stories of acceptance and inclusion.

“This is like a Pride parade in itself,” McMahon said during his Tupelo appearance. “You have made me feel so welcome.”

A small group of protesters stood across from the venue, occasionally interrupting with cries through a bullhorn.

Getting to the Tupelo stage was not easy as McMahon faced a backlash from the community when he was booked to perform at Taylor Library. Social media lit up with both support and opposition before the event was canceled.

McMahon then hoped to hold the event at MacGregor Park, but the backlash against the show continued — forcing a search for a new venue.

That was when Tupelo owner Scott Hayward offered his space to McMahon.

Town Council Chairman Jim Morgan was among those who supported McMahon’s program, saying the event was a positive sign for the community.

“This night will send a good message,” Morgan said.

— Julie Huss

Special election gives GOP the win

Derry lost one of its state representatives in 2021, but elected a new one.

In a special election Dec. 7, Republican Jodi Nelson beat out Democrat Mary Eisner to take the spot on the Rockingham County District 6 list of representatives, all Republicans.

The election came after former Rep. Anne Copp moved out of town.

Prior to the December election, a primary in October narrowed the GOP field, giving Nelson top vote counts over challengers Neil Wetherbee and Tom Cardon. Eisner ran unopposed on the Democratic ticket.

Town councilors also approved a measure to make Calvary Bible Church the main polling location for Derry elections. That decision came after some primary election issues at the polls at West Running Brook Middle School. Masks are required in school buildings, but according to law, polling spots cannot require masks be worn.

— Julie Huss


A year for hiring

Mayor James Fiorentini made a number of high-level appointments this year, beginning with new fire Chief Robert O’Brien, who in February took over for retiring Chief William Laliberty. O’Brien has been a Haverhill firefighter since 1994, and served as a deputy fire chief for the past 11 years.

In July, Fiorentini named police Capt. Robert Pistone as the department’s new chief. Pistone succeeded retired Chief Alan DeNaro, who marked the end of a 44-year law enforcement career June 30. He served as Haverhill’s chief since 2002.

In September, the mayor named Whittier Vo-Tech graduate Kaitlin Wright as assistant city clerk. Most recently chief of staff for Republican state Rep. Steven Xiarhos, Wright replaced former Haverhill Assistant City Clerk James Blachford, who left to become the town clerk for West Newbury.

In December, Fiorentini hired new Highway Superintendent Michael Arpino to replace Brian Zaniboni, who retired in November. Arpino, was Public Works street superintendent for the city of Newton since 2011.

Also in December, the mayor named Public Health Nurse Mary Connolly director of the city’s new Department of Public Health, and named Angel Wills, Amesbury’s CFO since 2019, as Haverhill’s new CFO and auditor.

Wills is the first woman to hold Haverhill’s top finance job and will succeed longtime Haverhill CFO and Auditor Charles “Chuck” Benevento, who retired at the end of December.

Fiorentini is currently searching for a DPW director to replace Michael Stankovich, who is retiring but will continue working part time for the city. The mayor is also seeking a replacement for Veterans Services Officer Luis Santiago, who left to become Billerica’s VSO.

— Mike LaBella

Violent attack

On the afternoon of March 3, Janet Blanchard, 54, and her daughter Geena Sindoni, 26, were out walking their dog in Blanchard’s neighborhood on Fairview Farm Road near the Salem, New Hampshire, line.

Police said a neighbor, 23-year-old Jake Kavanaugh, drove his car into the women and proceeded to attack Blanchard with a box cutter, slicing her neck and eyes and causing permanent blindness.

Salem police Officer Michael Cummings, the first to arrive at the scene, was able to stop the attack. Cummings is also credited with taking Kavanaugh into custody and tending to Blanchard’s life-threatening injuries until more help arrived.

Blanchard was rushed by helicopter to a Boston hospital where she spent 10 weeks between the hospital and rehab before returning home in mid-May. Her daughter was treated and released from a local hospital.

A GoFundMe page to support the Blanchard family has to date raised more than $149,500.

Kavanaugh was charged with armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, mayhem, and negligent operation of motor vehicle.

He remains held without bail at Bridgewater State Hospital, where he was sent for a mental health evaluation after his initial arraignment in Haverhill District Court.

— Mike LaBella

Athletes win battle to play

In March, student-athletes at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School won their fight to play Fall 2 sports that appeared lost to COVID-19 and other issues.

Superintendent Maureen Lynch reversed the school’s decision to cancel the season, which included football, soccer, volleyball and cheerleading. She informed students starting March 8, the football team would be allowed to practice, with other teams following suit.

Lynch had initially called off the season despite play being approved by the MIAA state high school sports organization. Among the reasons for her decision, she cited snow on the school’s turf field and the $2,000 cost of removing it.

Students showed up Feb. 24 after school — shovels in hand — intent on clearing the snow but weren’t able to get beyond the front gate and past Haverhill police Officer Ryan Connolly, Whittier’s school resource officer.

Things came to a head when a group of parents met with the superintendent, Principal Chris Laganas and Athletic Director Kevin Bradley, who is also the school’s football coach, in a last-ditch effort to work things out.

The day after the meeting, Lynch told students she’d changed her mind and would allow the sports season to happen.

David Habib, father of Whittier senior Alicia Habib, was among parents who supported their children in the effort.

“Superintendent Lynch told me that it wasn’t the parents that got to her — it was the kids,’’ he said. “It was a grassroots effort. They moved the immovable, as far as I’m concerned.”

— Mike LaBella

Stem sues city in regards to impact fees

Caroline Pineau, owner of Stem, a downtown retail cannabis shop, brought a lawsuit against the city and Mayor James Fiorentini, alleging the city violated both state law regulating the cannabis industry, as well as the terms of its host community agreement by failing to provide documentation of costs the city incurs because of the operation of the business.

The city sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that because the cannabis industry is so new, ways of determining the impact of a cannabis dispensary are still being developed and more time was needed.

The motion for dismissal was heard in July by Newburyport Superior Court Judge Janice Howe, who on Sept. 16 issued a decision in which she agreed to the city’s request to dismiss counts one and two on procedural grounds, but rejected the request to dismiss counts three, four and five. The case is expected to move forward based on those three counts, with Stem seeking to invalidate the impact fees.

The city provided Stem with a report listing $1.3 million in expenses it claims it incurred.

Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, said he has concerns about the relevance of impact fees being charged to retail marijuana shops by communities across the state, including in Haverhill.

“If the litigation does go through to judgement, there will be clarity and specificity of what is allowable and what is not allowable and I think that would be beneficial to everybody,” he said. “And if it does, it will set precedent and will reduce ambiguity and increase clarity and specificity.”

— Mike LaBella

LAWRENCE Hometown hero laid to rest

A young Marine from Lawrence was killed in Afghanistan in late August. With thousands lining the streets and holding American flags, the body of Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, was returned home Sept. 11.

The Lawrence High School graduate was killed by suicide bombers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A Marine for eight years, Rosario Pichardo volunteered to be in Kabul screening women and children who were trying to leave the country before the Taliban again resumed control after 20 years of U.S. involvement.

She was one of 13 service members killed.

Rosalinda Rosario, 21, remembered her older sister as beautiful, caring and driven.

“She was just the best person. She was my hero, the hero of Lawrence, a hero who died helping people,” Rosalinda said.

Rosario Pichardo was awarded the Purple Heart and Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. She was buried in the veterans’ section of Bellevue Cemetery with full military honors.

— Jill Harmacinski

Voters choose DePena for mayor

Brian DePena called it a “new chapter for Lawrence” as he was sworn into office in November.

DePena defeated interim Mayor Kendrys Vasquez in the Nov. 2 election by a count of 6,093 to 5,338.

Usually, candidates who win general elections in November are not sworn into office until January.

However, Vasquez, former City Council president, was appointed interim mayor through a home rule petition process after former Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera left office in December 2020. Rivera left the mayor’s post to become president and CEO of MassDevelopment in Boston.

“The people have decided for a different and brighter future, and they want to be part of it. What I want to say to my constituents is that I hear you loud and clear. My administration is ready to lead you, take care of you and treat you with the respect you all deserve,” DePena said when he was inaugurated.

— Jill Harmacinski

Fire guts historic church

At least 100 firefighters from Lawrence and area cities and towns spent hours on the night of Feb. 22 battling a stubborn four-alarm blaze in the rectory of Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church at 35 Essex St.

Chief Brian Moriarty said firefighters were able to keep the fire from leaping from the rectory down two hallways that led into the church.

“Even though it was a bad fire, we saved the church,” he said. “It was an excellent stop, tremendous.”

Parish pastor, the Rev. Francis Mawn, was the sole occupant of the rectory andescaped unharmed.

Masses were held in the parish center across the street until July, when the main church reopened after repairs.

— Jill Harmacinski

A new Oliver School in the works

Young students will have the opportunity to learn in a new state-of-the-art Oliver School after councilors approved a $132.3 million bond order to build a new school in spring 2021.

“The new Oliver School is the most important large educational investment in a decade,” former Mayor Daniel Rivera said.

Oliver Partnership students in first through fifth grade and UP Academy Oliver students in grades six through eight will attend the new school. Construction is expected to begin in January.

Students have been attending class at the former St. Mary’s grammar school since February, when conditions at the existing Oliver Partnership school necessitated a relocation. They’ll remain there until the new school opens in March 2025.

A Massachusetts School Building Authority grant is being used to correct mechanical, electrical and plumbing deficiencies at the current school. The city is expected to be reimbursed for 46% of the project, with taxpayers footing the rest of the bill, making the city’s portion approximately $71 million.

— Jill Harmacinski

LONDONDERRYLancer Nation mourns a loss

In March, Londonderry High School’s Lancer Nation mourned one of its own. Images of a smiling teen proudly wearing his No. 2 football jersey graced the football field during a memorial service to honor the life of Jacob Naar.

The 17-year-old died in a car crash in Londonderry on March 12 and was remembered by not only the school community, but the entire town for having a positive attitude and being a strong role model for others.

His favorite phrase, “No Bad Days,” lit up a sign in front of the school as friends, family members and school and town officials came out in his honor.

The celebration invited people to come out during three time frames to ensure social distancing and make sure as many people who wanted to pay their respects could do so.

— Julie Huss

Centuries-old family farm sold

In May, a family farm legacy and historic orchard was sold.

Moose Hill Orchard, also known as Mack’s Apples, owned and operated by generations of the Mack family was sold but remained an active and bustling farm.

The farm’s history dates back generations. In 1732, John Mack came to Londonderry from Londonderry, Ireland. He settled in the area known then as Nutfield, and began growing potatoes, raising cattle and eventually took on apples that would become the farm’s most popular staple in the years ahead.

Today the farm continues to use the land for apple orchards and pumpkin patches, drawing thousands of people every fall. Moose Hill also operates a farm stand on Mammoth Road.

— Julie Huss

William Argie convicted

As the year was ending, William Argie was sent to prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole for the 2019 murder of his wife, Maureen Gaudet Argie.

Following emotional courtroom remarks from Maureen’s loved ones, Argie, 49, announced that he intends to appeal the guilty verdict, claiming several errors in his trial.

He testified that he found his 41-year-old wife dead in their Londonderry home April 4, 2019. Jurors, however, were in quick agreement that he was guilty of first-degree murder and falsifying evidence.

— Julie Huss


Voters reject pot

It happened again at the polls: When asked about cannabis, city voters just said no.

Five years after opting not to band with neighboring communities like Haverhill, Amesbury and Dracut, where marijuana is available for purchase, Methuen voters shot down a ballot measure to bring cannabis sales to the community in November.

A total of 2,266 people voted not to allow city leaders to enact local legislation to grant permission for the sale, cultivation and transportation of cannabis in the community. In favor were 1,681 voters.

— Allison Corneau

Changes at Police Department

The Methuen Police Department took several steps forward in 2021, starting with the appointment of police Chief Scott McNamara.

A 25-year law enforcement veteran who came to the city from Lawrence, McNamara was appointed by Mayor Neil Perry in August. He was chosen for the job over Salem, N.H., Deputy Police Chief Shane Smith.

“In McNamara I saw a poise and calm leadership capacity that can continue the progress we have made with the Methuen Police Department in this community,” Perry said.

McNamara replaced Joseph Solomon, who retired in January 2021 after being placed on paid administrative leave following a department audit and a report from the state Inspector General’s office. Both reports accused Solomon and some of his superior officers, including Capt. Greg Gallant, of wrongdoing. Gallant was also placed on paid administrative leave.

The new chief’s early wins include correcting issues raised in the audit and Inspector General’s reports, successfully lobbying for eight new cruisers and continuing work toward the department’s certification on the road to accreditation.

— Allison Corneau

CARES Act fund reversal

The state Executive Office for Administration and Finance in November said it is taking back $650,000 from the city that was given out using CARES Act funding to restaurants and COVID-19 hazard pay for some employees.

After receiving $4 million in federal aid, Mayor Neil Perry was given a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, to allocate it. Now, the city must return $150,000 that went to restaurants and $500,000 in hazard pay issued to essential employees shortly before the holidays last year.

Hazard pay stipends must be returned, the state said, because they amount to “impermissible bonuses” for workers who did not face an employment-related “physical hardship.” Restaurant money used to reimburse licensing fees is owed back because it was not deemed an eligible expense.

Public records show hazard pay was issued to 346 city employees in prorated amounts up to $1,500, depending on the amount of time they worked during the pandemic.

“Hindsight’s 20/20. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t,” Perry said.

The City Council did not vote to issue the hazard pay, business or rental assistance payments, despite the fact that municipal code requires a vote on any payment more than $50,000.

The mayor has appealed the state’s decision regarding the hazard pay and restaurant stipends.

— Allison Corneau


The party is on

The pandemic has caused cancellations of a great number of public events, including North Andover’s original plans for celebrating its 375th birthday.

But the town recovered its stride by the holidays, and introduced its birthday theme with a Festival Committee float at the Santa Parade, which resumed this year with an enthusiastic turnout. The following week, another festive crowd turned out to see Santa at the tree lighting on the common, which featured a large, illuminated 375th birthday banner.

Smaller versions of this banner also appear all over town and feature two themes. One is “For All Those Who Have Come Before Us,” honoring everyone who endured hardships to make North Andover a special place to live, starting with the original settlers near Lake Cochichewick.

The other theme is “Let’s celebrate,” which echoes the enthusiasm that was evident at the parade and tree lighting. To enhance that spirit, the year ahead will continue celebrations at a 375th Gala at the Stevens Estate on May 13, the Sheep Shearing Festival on May 22, and a fireworks display, which may or may not coincide with the Fourth of July. Residents are also invited to contribute memories of growing up in town to a video time capsule being compiled at the North Andover Cam studios.

— Will Broaddus

Biggest ever school project

The School Committee voted Sept. 23 to approve a plan to renovate Atkinson and Franklin elementary schools, along with the North Andover Middle School, and to rebuild Kittredge Elementary.

The four schools were originally built between 1949 and 1964 and suffer from overcrowding. Each school also needs upgrades to bring it into compliance with building codes, and laws requiring access for students with disabilities. As facilities, they lag well behind the Thomson and Sargent elementary schools, which were both built in the 1990s.

This project, which will need approval at Town Meeting in May, has been described as the biggest thing that North Andover’s school system has ever attempted. Along with plans to renovate Fire Station 2 and the youth center and to build a gymnasium at the Bradstreet Center, it is included in Facilities Master Plan 2, which will cost around six times more than the first Facilities Master Plan.

In a special meeting of the School and Finance committees ,along with the Select Board, Town Manager Melissa Murphy-Rodrigues outlined a 15-year plan to execute and pay for the project, which is expected to cost $169 million with inflation.

Murphy-Rodrigues said the impact on average tax bills should be $5,915 over 30 years, if funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority is obtained, or $12,363 over 33 years if it isn’t.

— Will Broaddus

Royal Crest project

Planning Board meetings were dominated by plans to replace Royal Crest Estates on Route 114 with a mixed-use retail, residential and business complex. The plans call for a zoning overlay that needs approval at Town Meeting.

Royal Crest is 50 years old and the owners hired Trinity Financial to replace it. North Andover stands to benefit from taxes on the proposed development, and from its inclusion of units that meet the state’s 40B fair housing requirements.

But objectors say the proposed development is too big, especially given its location at one of the town’s main entry points. Sewage will double, and traffic will triple. Abutters complained that proposed buildings are too high and would loom over their houses.

There was also discussion of Merrimack College’s stake in the project. The school houses hundreds of students at Royal Crest now, and the new plans could make them owners of two dorms on the property.

Trinity Financial has responded to objections by cutting the number of housing units by 20 percent, lowering buildings, creating bigger natural buffers at the edges of the property and introducing strategies to mitigate sewage and traffic. It remains to be seen whether they can convince the Planning Board, and the town’s citizens, that their vision suits North Andover.

— Will Broaddus


New superintendent takes lead

It’s not often that the Salem School District gets a new leader — in fact, 2021 was the first time it happened in 17 years.

The district’s third-ever superintendent, Michael Delahanty, announced his retirement in January and worked through July.

His longtime colleague Maura Palmer took over after that.

The decision to retire after one of the most trying years imaginable was not influenced by the pandemic, Delahanty made clear.

Instead, he told The Eagle-Tribune, “it’s a good time for me” after reaching long-sought achievements, like districtwide building renovations and opening lines of communication between leaders at every school.

Other promotions throughout the year included high school Principal Tracy Collyer moving to assistant superintendent, and upperclassmen Dean of Students Jeff Dennis moving to Salem High principal.

— Breanna Edelstein

Dolan named police chief

One of the first orders of business in Salem this year was promoting Chief Joel Dolan to the top policing job.

He arrived in Salem in 2003, eventually serving as a patrol sergeant from 2007 to 2009 and for most of 2012. Simultaneously, Dolan held the title of sergeant.

The ensuing three years were spent as a lieutenant, and eventually, a captain in 2016. He rose to deputy chief in 2019 after several top-ranking officers were placed on leave pending investigations by the state.

During the change in leadership, Dolan was the officer in charge of the department for two years.

So far at the helm, he has updated general orders that were not in compliance with acceptable practices, established an anti-bias policing policy and annual training.

— Breanna Edelstein

Supportive community

Corrine and Maya Murphy, Michelle LaRocque, the Tutrone family and the Smiths: all can speak about the kindness of their community in 2021.

Eight-year-old Maya Murphy and her mom, Corrine, were given a luxury ride in the holiday parade after organizers learned of their health struggles. Corrine was misdiagnosed for eight years before doctors pinpointed a soft tissue cancer and deemed it terminal.

Her girl has overcome the odds associated with isodicentric chromosome 15 syndrome, or dup15q. This year she joined a soccer team, learned to ride a bike and swam on her own.

When Michelle LaRocque lost her husband to cancer in January, he was only 43. Their children were 7 and 4. A vulnerable post on social media asking for help turned into thousands of well wishes and shows of support.

“I don’t even know how I will ever be able to thank everyone enough,” Michelle said. “I promise I will be paying it forward.”

The Tutrone family’s life changed in an instant over the summer, when an alleged drunk driver crashed into their home and critically injured 5-year-old Giuliana. Her dad, Joseph, has praised a landscaper and doctor who happened to be in the area and jumped into action.

Encouraging messages and financial support flooded an online fundraiser.

Locals also reached into their wallets to support Grady Smith, a fifth-grader who raised $21,885 for hospitalized children. He knows their pain all too well.

Grady is diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, a potentially deadly genetic disease. Experts say there is no cure, but stem cell transplants are known to help. Grady received his from a stranger in 2018.

— Breanna Edelstein


Crowd advocates for Music Department

About 70 students, staff and members of the community gathered in May with signs and speeches to advocate for full funding of the award-winning Music Department. Many planned to speak directly to School Board members in the Performing Arts Center about their concerns.

The meeting, however, was moved online after a group of parents who showed up to speak against a mask mandate in Timberlane schools refused to wear face coverings.

Disheartened by the change in plans, impassioned Music Department allies still logged on to the meeting and advocated virtually.

After it was announced that beloved music director Tony DiBartolomeo would be retiring in 2021 — with more than three decades at the helm — a revised version of his job was posted.

It called for internal applicants only to fill an interim “Director of Music/PAC” position.

As of December, Kurt Schweiss was listed on the School District’s website as the interim director of music.

— Breanna Edelstein

Outrage follows teacher arrest

A Timberlane Regional School District official only contacted David Russell’s former employers after his November arrest for assaulting a 15-year-old girl in his math class — not during the hiring process — police documents explain.

Human Resources Director Dana O’Gara told investigators it was then she learned he was let go from two nearby school districts for inappropriate touching.

The Nashua School District reported, “Russell was let go due to touching young female students and thinking it was OK to give them therapeutic massages.”

North Andover schools “also let him go for touching,” the police report reads. He taught there for 23 years.

Russell, 63, is now charged in Plaistow with two counts of simple assault and a count of sexual assault.

Outraged parents spoke up at a Timberlane Regional School Board meeting, questioning why they heard about the arrest in the press before any alerts from school officials. Many also questioned the process of vetting Russell, and all teachers, before they are left alone with students.

Russell is scheduled to appear in 10th Circuit Court in Salem in January.

— Breanna Edelstein


Election audit takes weeks

A three-week forensic study in May of Windham’s election results confirmed the accuracy of a state recount of the Rockingham District 7 state representative race, according to a report released from the Forensic Election Audit Team.

New Hampshire Secretary of State William M. Gardner and Attorney General John M. Formella received the report July 12.

“This forensic audit addressed the unusual numerical disparity between the originally reported results for the November 2020 contest for New Hampshire State Representative in Rockingham County District 7 (the town of Windham) and the official hand recount results for that contest,” the audit team reported. “The recount did not change the outcome of the election.”

The audit came after Windham’s totals and those of a state recount of the District 7 state representative race showed big discrepancies.

Town vote counts during the Nov. 3 General Election gave the four Republican candidates the top tallies and the win, but only 24 votes originally separated GOP candidate Julius Soti from Democrat Kristi St. Laurent, who then requested the recount, held Nov. 12 of 2020.

The state’s recount number gave the GOP candidates nearly 300 more votes each, but St. Laurent lost 99.

The audit started May 11 at the Edward Cross Training Center in Pembroke, a facility chosen for its secure location.

Over the course of the three-week time frame, auditors did hand counts of Windham’s 10,006 ballots, scanned documents, and paid attention to matching numbers, ballot batches, machine counts, analyzed the inner workings of Windham’s four AccuVote machines and their memory cards and also kept careful watch over who among teams of town election officials and volunteers handled the ballots and other materials.

The team announced they discovered the primary root cause of the discrepancy to be folds through vote targets on some absentee ballots.

The report said about 400 ballots could have been miscounted as a result of the folding machine and that auditors believed Windham election officials could not have anticipated the problem.

— Julie Huss

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