The Syrian refugee crisis continues to roil the state’s political establishment at all levels, including the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen which defeated a motion last night to support Democratic Governor Margaret Wood Hassan’s stance against the administration allowing more Syrian refugees to enter country without improving screening efforts. During the discussion on the motion made by Republican Ward Twelve Alderman Keith Hirschmann, Police Chief Nick Willard said that he was told by the F B I that five hundred of the ninety thousand Syrian refugees the administration announced it will bring to the country are headed to New Hampshire.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Click here for an update to this story regarding an clarification issued by Willard about his statements.
Hirschmann originally moved to empower the mayor to contact the governor, Congressman Frank Guinta and senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen to say the city didn’t want to take the five hundred Syrian refugees headed its way, but amended the motion at the suggestion of at-Large Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur after criticism came from Ward Five Alderman Tony Sapienza who said the motion was “foolish” and at-Large Alderman Dan O’Neil who called the motion “stupid.” O’Neil said news reports were saying some of the terrorists originated from Belgium and asked why pick on Syrians. Hirschmann said there aren’t any Belgian refugees. (Note: The “Belgians” were, in fact, Muslim Arabs not native to Belgium.)
Ward One Alderman Joyce Craig opposed the motion asking why they should support it when the governor said the state has no power to block the refugees. Hirschmann dunked her, frankly, replying quote “we are the leaders of this community, we have a voice and should be heard.” O’Neil and Ward Three Alderman Patrick Long argued that the refugees were slated for the state, not specifically the city, which prompted Mayor Ted Gatsas to say quote “They aren’t going to Berlin and they’re not going to Keene,” implying that the vast majority of them will end up in the city.
Only Levasseur and Ward Nine Alderman Barbara Shaw, who stressed that it wasn’t a ban on refugees, but a reprieve until the feds could guarantee that no terrorists were going to get through the screening, supported Hirschmann’s motion to support the governor. Craig, Ward Two Alderman Ron Ludwig, who also called the motion “stupid” and Ward Seven Alderman Bill Shea abstained on the vote. The rest of them, all Democrats, voted against the motion.
Congressman Guinta, by the way, issued a statement yesterday applauding Hassan for breaking with her party to oppose the importation of the Syrian refugees until they can be properly screened to guarantee no terrorists slip through. However, he also called on her to join the thirty governors across the nation who’ve said they will do whatever they can to block the feds from settling them in their states.
Click here for our Live Blog Forum of last night’s meeting.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
Refugees weren’t the only item of business before the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen last night. Pay raises unexpectedly hit the agenda. Turns out there were tentative agreements between the city and thirteen union bargaining groups that essentially extends their current contract for a year. While there is no cost of living increase given to any city employee, six hundred general fund employees, those are the ones paid for by the taxpayers, will see their annual step raises reinstated retroactively to July first to the tune of more than two thirds of a million dollars. The contracts will lie on the table for final approval until the next meeting of the board so the public can examine the agreements.
The board also ratified the contract between the school district and the certified instructors union. The money quotes on this one came when Ward Four Alderman Jim Roy said it looked like the district was going to spend twenty one thousand dollars in the first year to save nine thousand. He was corrected by School District Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis who advised they were actually spending thirty one thousand dollars to save nine thousand, after which the board ratified the contract and at-Large Alderman Dan O’Neil said the board should hire School Board Negotiations Committee Chairman John Avard to be the city’s negotiator.
The board also shot down an arrangement made by Mayor Ted Gatsas to provide bus service from the city’s elderly housing complexes to the senior center. After weeks of work with the Manchester Transit Authority to come up with a program that provided five day service, the aldermen shot it down because Elderly Services Director Gail Senno only wanted buses servicing the center one day per week. The interesting thing is the total cost to the city of the five day program was only eight thousand dollars for the six months from January to the end of the fiscal year. The one day program will cost thirty two hundred. Do the math on that! M T A Superintendent Mike Whitten said the cost difference reflected the need to use overtime for a one day service versus being able to fold a five day service into a regular work schedule.
The Committee on Human Resources and Insurance voted to direct Human Resources Director Jane Gile to develop a Request for Proposal to see what could be done to audit the city’s health and dental insurance plans. She reported that, per the committee’s last directive, she’d emailed employees about eligibility and even put notices with their paychecks. Just four employees came forward with questions, which led to the removal two ineligible dependents from the dental plan. Gile also reported that the cost to the city to conduct the audit would be a whopping twenty grand, which, based on how they calculate savings, would mean that removing a mere six ineligible dependents would pay for the audit.
That wasn’t enough for Ward One Alderman Joyce Craig who continued to oppose a fee based the audit, Gile’s assertion that it would be good for the city notwithstanding, because savings couldn’t be guaranteed. She wanted to see something where the companies worked on a contingency basis despite Gile saying that the companies didn’t want to do that because it would provide an incentive to remove people from the program rather than ensure that the insurance plans are being properly followed, which is what an audit is supposed to do. In the end, Craig supported the move to get proposals because Ward Two Alderman Ron Ludwig said it would provide information that maybe the aldermen weren’t thinking about.
Finally, at least this morning, after hearing from members of the city’s Heritage Commission and the public, the board voted to send the Diocese of Manchester a letter asking they provide more time and work with the city and historic preservationists to come up with alternatives for the historic Chandler House adjacent to St. Hedwig’s Church. The diocese is selling it for twenty nine thousand dollars with the caveat that it be removed from the property. However, if it’s not sold by the end of this month, they’ve said they will demolish the historic Victorian gem to make way for a parking lot.
That’s news from our own backyard, Girard at Large hour ___ is on deck!