Alderman Patrick Arnold fuels the comment section

City Hall can be a hit or miss. Some issues really rile people unexpectedly, others seem controversial then get no feedback. This one got ample comments out of the blue, part of which was getting called out by Alderman Greazzo, then Greazzo getting a lashing from fellow commenters that he should lay off. Nice.

Alderman scolded for raising complaint in public

March 6, 2011

ALDERMAN Patrick Arnold thought he was doing some good by bringing a constituent’s concern before the board. The Ward 12 alderman had received a complaint about possible dog fighting in the city and asked at Tuesday’s meeting that the matter be sent to committee for further investigation.

What he didn’t expect was getting nipped by his fellow aldermen.

“My concern is we may be setting misconceptions that we have a dog fighting problem in the city,” said Alderman Russ Ouellette. Aldermen should bring sensitive issues such as this straight to a committee chairman, Ouellette said, instead of raising concerns during a full board meeting and getting the public needlessly upset. Alderman Mike Lopez had the same concern and asked Police Chief David Mara to confirm that there had not been any reports of dog fighting recently in the city. Mara said he would talk to the animal control officer about any abuse reports that might indicate a problem.

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ARNOLD ALSO RAISED a few eyebrows with his apparent involvement in getting the Board of School Committee to schedule a special budget meeting during school vacation week. I had received a tip that Arnold was encouraging a few committee members to meet while Mayor Ted Gatsas was away. Then, after the meeting, a post showed up on Arnold’s Facebook wall from committee member Chris Herbert, who was the main force behind calling the meeting.

“OK Patrick, that went well, don’t you think?” Herbert wrote (with sarcasm), followed by a recap of the special meeting. “Maybe a plus due to uptick in public attention meter w/o Gatsas framing,” he continued, referring to the school board’s desire to avoid having Gatsas dominate discussion with his budget-cutting agenda.

Patrick, who tends to be more friendly with school board members than most aldermen, denies he goaded them to meet without the mayor.

“I’m flattered anyone would give me credit for having influence over that legislative (sic) body,” said Arnold.

But Gatsas isn’t buying it and certainly didn’t appreciate an alderman taking a role in facilitating the meeting.

“There’s nothing flattering about robbing the school board members that weren’t available, and their constituents, of representation,” said Gatsas.

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THE MAYOR has been known to shy away from non-public sessions with the school board, but he agreed to join one with the aldermen on Tuesday to discuss a negotiation strategy with city unions. Before heading in to the closed-door session, the aldermen had a 30-minute debate over whether they should do so.

For months, the city has tried to get unions to agree to the same health insurance concessions presented to city teachers: higher contributions, a higher deductible and higher doctor co-pays. On Tuesday, Finance Director Bill Sanders disclosed that recent union talks about health care costs had been positive. Highway, Fire and Police Department unions have presented some promising new cost-saving ideas, said Sanders, including increased bonuses for employees who opt out of the city’s health insurance plan and choose doctors who charge less for common procedures such as mammograms and colonoscopies. Hearing this, the aldermen agreed that keeping things casual between the city and the unions was a good way to proceed.

But the unions haven’t agreed to pay more for their benefits yet, and City Solicitor Tom Clark suggested the aldermen go into non-public session to discuss strategy.

The aldermen met privately for about 15 minutes. When they came out and adjourned the meeting, Alderman Phil Greazzo headed straight for the press box and informed me I hadn’t missed much.

“Everything we talked about in non-public was what we had talked about before,” he said.

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WATER WORKS union president Michael Roche wondered last week whether the city should fill the chief labor-contract negotiator position, which has been vacant since 2008. He said Sanders and Clark may have been directed to continue talks with unions, but he hasn’t heard from them yet.

The last person to hold the chief negotiator spot for the city was Dave Hodgen, who retired from the job after 20 years. In June 2009, he told the New Hampshire Union Leader that Manchester’s new three-year labor contracts could come back to haunt the city.

“It’s very likely, quite likely, there are things in the different contracts that are expensive and are problematic to the city,” said Hodgen. “And by agreeing to leave those aspects in the contracts as they are, the city will have to live with those problems for the next three-year period.”

In Hodgen’s absence, the aldermen did their own negotiating, agreeing to a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in summer 2010, followed by a 2.5 percent increase in each of the following two years, which we are in now.

Hodgen said then that it would take some time before it was clear whether the aldermen had done a good job.

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SISTER JACQUELINE R. VERVILLE spent 52 years in front of a classroom. It took only a year and a half of retirement before she was teaching again.

Verville, a Sister of the Holy Cross, is one of the founders of the Holy Cross Family Learning Center, located in the old Rimmon School on Dubuque Street. About 15 volunteers teach at the center, offering English classes to about 70 people from places such as Iraq, Bhutan, Haiti, Rwanda and Canada. The center relies on grants to operate, but come this September, its financial burden will become much lighter.

Manchester developer Dick Anagnost has pledged to pay the center’s rent for an entire year starting this fall. To thank Anagnost, the center will host a reception for him on March 14.

“We’d like to do a cultural conversation with some of the students, have them dressed in their own culture’s clothes and talk a little bit about where they lived, what they experienced and what it’s like for them today in the United States,” said Verville.

Working at the school offers Verville a window into these cultures.

“We learn so much from each one of them,” Verville said. “It’s always new and so wonderful what they want to share with us.”

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