MANCHESTER, NH April 12, 2014–Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil, Chairman of the Manchester Board of Aldermen sent an email to board members at 10:02 PM on Thursday, just two days after Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas had open heart surgery, blasting a “lack of information” as to the mayor’s status, writing “it is disrespectful to the Alderman and more importantly to the citizens of Manchester. The people of Manchester deserve better.”
In an interview with Girard at Large, O’Neil stood by his statement saying it was unacceptable that information regarding the mayor’s condition and his ability to discharge his duties wasn’t more forthcoming. “Things can happen suddenly,” he said, explaining that in the event of an emergency, nobody’s entirely sure how it would be handled. O’Neil said he was also concerned that business in the city not come to a standstill stating that with the construction season underway, there was a limited amount of time the city had to get road and other important pubic works projects done and he didn’t want them delayed by an inability of the mayor to sign off. The ability to hire new employees was an issue for O’Neil, too.
“The departments have got to be able to do what they need to do,” he said.
During the interview, O’Neil admitted that Gatsas called him from the hospital on Monday night to tell him what he knew of his situation, saying he would have more tests done on Tuesday. O’Neil, who said he’s known several people whose bypass surgery have put them out of commission for periods of time, did also admit that the mayor may not have had an opportunity to inform him or the board of the bypass surgery before it happened. “Sometimes they do the tests and go immediately into the operating room,” he offered. Still that did not excuse the lack of information that’s come from the mayor since the bypass surgery was completed. “The last we’ve heard anything was the press release handed out on Tuesday night,” he said.
Per the email, he did tell Girard at Large that the mayor called him on Friday morning. O’Neil said he missed the call because he was tied up with something involving his work, later returning the mayor’s call and leaving a message on his voice mail. In response to our question, he also said he’d not initiated any phone or other conversations with the mayor’s staff to inquire as to the mayor’s status to determine whether or not his condition constituted a temporary vacancy in the office which would require him to fill the void. By law, the Chairman of the Board assumes the Office of the Mayor during temporary absences from the office.
O’Neil said he shouldn’t have had to make any calls to discover what’s going on. “They should be reaching out to all the aldermen to let us know what’s going on,” insisting that his only concern was for the city’s ability to operate as it needed to. “I want to stress that I see filling in during an absence of the mayor as handling administrative functions only,” he said, citing past examples of board chairmen filling the void. He pointed to former Chairman Mike Lopez’s handling of the ice storms while Gatsas was on vacation and former Chairman Bill Cashin’s involvement with the duties when former Mayor Raymond J. Wieczorek was sidelined with Guillain Barre Syndrome. “This is not about taking over,” he said. “I hope that the mayor’s getting stronger every day and can return to the office soon.”
In the meantime, O’Neil stood by his accusation that Gatsas was failing the city by not keeping the aldermen better informed. “There is an obligation by all elected officials to do what is in the best interest of the people we are elected to represent. That has not happened.”
Aides for the mayor declined to comment for this story, though Chief of Staff Samantha Piatt reiterated information from the press release announcing Gatsas’ hospitalization that the departments were working with the mayor’s staff to ensure items requiring the mayor’s attention are being addressed. Piatt, who visits with him regularly, said he’s signing things from his hospital bed as necessary.