Well, if anyone has any doubt about Mayor Ted Gatsas‘ health and his abilities to discharge the duties of the office, last night’s contentious, marathon meeting ought to put those to rest. Several items of note came before the board. The night got off to an interesting start as among the more than a dozen speakers on a variety of topics were half a dozen folks who urged the board to override the city’s tax cap. They ranged from students at Central who wanted the cap overridden to increase school funding to elderly folks who wanted more spent on buses so it would be easier for them to get around. Some said raising the cap was okay with them so the city could address its public safety and infrastructure needs.
With respect to the budget, last night’s discussion made it clear that the board is poised to override the tax cap, with several members mentioning private conversations on the matter. Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig became visibly irritated with Gatsas who refused to agree that an override of the cap was needed. aldermen attempted to pin the mayor down on the topic, including Board Chair Dan O’Neil, who demanded the mayor give a simple yes or no answer to his question about whether or not the cap needed to be overridden. When O’Neil wouldn’t accept the mayor’s answer, which was basically “we have work to do to solve some problems,” Gatsas just said quote “I’m not going to give you an answer.” End quote.
Alderman at Large Joe Kelly Levasseur spilled a big secret when he said the board was looking to cut the mayor’s proposed budget for the schools. He said the mayor gave them a disproportionate share of the increased funds available under the cap, something with with the mayor disagreed, and that the city should take some of it back to reward those city employees whose unions made concessions in their contract extensions, not the teachers who didn’t. Too bad he didn’t think that way when he was the deciding vote to give the schools another two and a half million dollars after the teachers voted down those same concessions. Remember how he bragged about being the tenth vote on that? Oh, yeah. Gatsas reminded him and then good ol’ Joe said it was time to look forward, not back. Levasseur revealed that board members had been eyeballing reductions in school spending given their current projected surplus of one point one million dollars, dollars that won’t be coming back to the taxpayer because it will be diverted to various off budget trust funds.
A bone of budget contention came when the board voted to return proposed increases in parking fees to committee. Seems Ward 3 Alderman Patrick Long no longer wants to assess fees for resident permit parking. However, by law, the board can’t change a recommendation by the Traffic Committee like it can with others. So, it got sent back to committee after an attempt to adopt the provisions but suspend enforcement until they could be changed was defeated by a vote of eight to six. Long argued that they shouldn’t do anything to discourage people from living downtown until they get to the fourteen thousand residents studies say would create a critical mass of people in the area that would enable further economic development. He said a one hundred dollar a year permit fee for residents, who currently park at metered spaces for free, would discourage people from living downtown. Somehow, though, he doesn’t think jacking up all the parking fees on business users and making people pay for meters from eight to eight, Monday through Saturday will discourage business or their customers from coming downtown. Right…
Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann laid into his colleagues on the board for their willingness to raise fees, find new revenues and override the tax cap rather than finding ways to reduce expenses, change the personnel system, lower benefits and find ways to become more efficient. Nothing’s changed since the last time he served on the board, he said, and those chickens have come home to roost. Frankly folks, he’s right on target.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
In other news from last night’s meeting of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the board voted eleven to three to adopt a new Right to Know policy that will significantly increase the cost and hassle of obtaining public information from the city. Aldermen Jim Roy from Ward 4, Ed Osborne of Ward 5 and Ward 7’s Bill Shea voted against the policy. Roy questioned City Solicitor Tom Clark about why he now believed the city could now charge for electronic copies when he’d told him in the past it couldn’t. Clark said he, ahem, didn’t remember the conversation, but said he believed the city always could charge. That’s a lie. He also blamed the recent court decision that came from Levasseur’s law suit saying because the court ruled that all records had to be redacted, the city would have to print electronic records, redact them then rescan them and that involved making copies for which the city could charge. Of course, the court didn’t rule that way, but what the hell, it sounds good to blame them. Roy asked if the policy limited electronic copy fees to those circumstances. City Clerk Matt Normand admitted it didn’t and that all electronic copies would be subject to the city’s copy fees under the policy. Shea prevailed on the board to send it back to committee to work out the areas of concern raised by a letter sent from Girard at Large attorney Ed Mosca. Levasseur argued that the policy isn’t perfect and that if people thought it was wrong they could spend the two hundred and sixty dollars to go to court and get it overturned, claiming the policy doesn’t restrict what information is available to the public or access to it, except it does. We’ll have more to say about this, the budget discussions, health care cost concerns and more during the show.
Two quick notes to round out the news.
State Senator Peter Bragdon, Republican from Milford announced yesterday he won’t seek reelection. Bragdon stepped down from the position of Senate President after becoming Executive Director of the embattled Local Government Center. Critics claim, rightly, that there’s a clear conflict of interest in being a senator while leading an organization that heavily lobbies the legislature. Expect Merrimack Town Councilor Dan Dwyer, who Bragdon defeated in the last election’s primary, to make another run for the seat.
The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce announced it has chosen P S N H spokesman Mike Skelton to be its new Executive Director. We’ve posted their press release with the details here with this newscast at Girard at Large. There just might be hope for that operation yet. Congratulations, Mike!
That’s news from our own backyard, Girard at Large hour ___ is just moments away.