Last night’s meeting of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen provided a night of high drama, big decisions and anti-climatic votes that had those following along with us shaking their virtual heads.
Let’s start with the board’s decision to ban ride sharing company Uber, technically known as a Transportation Networking Company, from operating in the city. Uber put up a valiant fight at the Committee on Administration and Information Systems but lost in committee four to one with only Chairman Joyce Craig, the Alderman from Ward One and mayoral candidate, in support. There, detractors hammered Uber drivers for engaging in disallowed activities, such as waiting in front of restaurants and giving rides to the airport and basically acting like a cab company.
Ward Three Alderman Patrick Long, who is not a member of the committee, complained that the city’s overly patient indulgence of Uber while the issues with the city were being worked on were badly damaging the city’s regulated taxi cab companies who, because of the regulations, couldn’t compete with Uber. Long was concerned that the cab companies were on the verge of going bankrupt, which would leave entire constituencies Uber allegedly doesn’t or won’t serve, without transportation options.
Ward Seven Alderman Bill Shea faulted the company for what he said was their refusal to play by the city’s rules which gave them an unfair competitive advantage against the cabs, who were playing by the rules. He said if Uber wanted to do business in the city, it would accept the city’s demands to require its drivers to submit to local licensing and registration, background checks, and drug testing. He said it was clear that Uber wasn’t interested in doing it the city’s way and was never going to be.
Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce President Michael Skelton addressed the committee saying it wanted to see the city develop a Transportation Networking Company ordinance to regulate companies like Uber because it was a new model of providing transportation services that will make it possible for new employers to come to the city and provide, as it has in hundreds of cities across the country, new services that make the city more business friendly and welcoming to visitors. Skelton argued that as technology changes the circumstances in which business is done, the rules need to change.
Craig fought for a Temporary Operating Agreement with Uber, similar to the one with Portsmouth, to enable the resolution of the remaining issues. She said the problems identified by Long and Shea were a result of there being no rules in place while the issues were worked on. She said a temporary agreement would contain whatever rules the city wanted to protect the cabs from the offending behaviors while giving Uber a chance to prove its methods of screening drivers. Uber was willing to share the data the city wanted under an audit provision rather than forcing drivers to directly interact with the city. Skelton said he understood that was a shift from how business was typically done, but that it was a necessary one given the business model.
Ward Six Alderman Garth Corriveau. also not a member of the committee, was an unapologetic free marketeer last night, saying if the cab companies couldn’t compete, that was too bad, but that sometimes happened in free markets. He said the city would be sending an awful message to businesses of all kinds if it banned Uber or otherwise forced them to bend to regulations that are not responsive to their industry and operation. He also said if regulation was making the cab companies uncompetitive, then perhaps the city should consider deregulating rather than foisting the same regulations on a new business model.
The same arguments more or less played out at the full board meeting. We’ve linked to our live blog of the debates so you can check it out. In the end only Craig, Corrieau and Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil voted against banning Uber.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
Also last night, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen elected former Beech Street School Principal and former Manchester Assistant Superintendent Nancy Tessier to fill the at-Large school board position vacated David Wihby. Tessier, who was curiously not even present for last night’s vote, was elected by one vote over Ward Eight resident Michael Porter, who was nominated by Ward Eight Alderman Tom Katsiantonis. Porter actually bothered to show up.
Despite being bombed by former Water Works Director Tom Bowen, Assistant Water Works Director Phil Croasdale was unanimously approved to be the new director. Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur abstained on the vote saying he had no problem with Croasdale, but that he did not meet the qualifications listed in the job posting and that the city was setting a bad precedent.
The aldermen also approved sending a letter to the State Senate asking to have the four million dollars in funding for the next phase of the Governor’s Shiny Choo Choo removed from by the House reinstated. Levasseur and Mayor Ted Gatsas opposed the move saying the city had more pressing needs that required funding and that funding the commuter rail study could come at their expense. Ward Nine’s Barbara Shaw and Ward Four’s Jim Roy also opposed.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the board approved the use of just over thirty nine thousand dollars of a projected fifty four thousand dollar surplus in the police department’s budget to purchase new software the cops say will dramatically improve their ability to both predict and respond to crime as they continue to expand and refine their Hot Spot Policing program. The department gave a rather compelling presentation on how existing data could be better used with the software and said, with an I B M representative at their side, it could be a model that would be copied nation wide. Mayor Ted Gatsas was given credit for negotiating the price down from over seventy one thousand dollars to the under forty thousand paid.
Oh, there’s been tremendous social media fallout from our interview with the Katsikas family yesterday and our posting of the audio of their meeting with the Superintendent. Haven’t seen anything like it in nearly four years on the air. We’ll probably discuss it this morning. Oh My HEAD! is all I can think to say!
That’s news from our own backyard, Girard at Large hour ___ is next!