It’s not gossip. It’s just City Hall

The best parts of covering politics are all the silly little things that happen during a lull in the meeting, the off-handed comments made before the cameras are on and the nasty little barbs politicians like to hurl at each other on the way out the door. I always thought it was a shame those things never made the paper, because they are more telling about who is really running a city than all the vote counts and election results in the world. Now I get to use them. Some people complain about it, but I keep doing it anyway.

I liked this week’s column because I think it’s a good example of the fun, weird, and hair-pullingly frustrating moments of a typical week in my shoes.

With many motions, the devil is in the legal details

WHEN IT COMES to crafting motions, wording is everything. The smallest misunderstanding over a term or an intention could alter a policy and cause a lot of trouble — or, more recently, a two-hour Board of School Committee meeting — to fix it.

Committeeman Arthur Beaudry last week successfully got a motion passed that grandfathered Manchester School District employees who were not eligible for top administration jobs because of a requirement they live in Manchester. Beaudry’s motion was intended to allow the district to consider district employees who do not live in Manchester for these top positions, such as superintendent of schools or principal, as long as they worked in the district before the residency requirement was initially passed.

But the way Beaudry’s motion was recorded could be interpreted to mean any person who worked in the district before the residency requirement was passed — regardless of whether they still work in Manchester — would be grandfathered. Beaudry said that wasn’t his intention, the school board clerk went back to the tape, and when the recording failed to reveal a clear wording of the motion, another meeting was set to restate the motion and take a vote.

If you’re wondering why the clerk didn’t have the exact language of the motion after listening to a recording, then you’ve never watched a school board meeting. Motions are sometimes made casually and discussed regardless of whether someone is recognized for making a second. Discussion can go on for 20 or 30 minutes, so when the board is ready to vote, the members often ask what it is again they are voting on.

The board on Wednesday again voted to allow school district employees who were working in the district before the residency requirement was passed to apply for top administration positions. This time, the vote stipulated the employees had to be working for the schools the day the policy was passed.

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THIS MISUNDERSTANDING opened up a whole new controversy that in part caused Wednesday’s two-hour meeting on what should have been a quick do-over.

What happens to those candidates who used to work for the district, live outside the city and applied for a principal position, such as the Central High School principal post, in the seven days between Beaudry’s first motion on the residency grandfathering and his second? Technically, the policy puts them in the candidate’s pools — or does it? To be sure it wasn’t opening itself up to a lawsuit, the board voted, 9-5, to seek a legal opinion.

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BEFORE THE MEETING was re-aired on Manchester Public Television Service on Thursday, station staff went back and removed a profanity that was picked up by the station mics. It came out during the debate over whether to seek a legal opinion on the residency requirement and seemed to originate in the area of the Wards 2 and 3 seats, causing some to pin it on Committeeman Joe Briggs.

While he wasn’t sure whether he was the one who was caught on tape, Briggs did concede that the discussion at the time was a pile of manure.

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AS THE SCHOOL BOARD debates how to realign the city schools to alleviate crowding, parents, students, teachers and community members can participate in the conversation on the “Ask the School Board” Facebook page. Started by Committeeman John Avard, the page already has active discussions on issues such as starting school before Labor Day and shifting to a K-8 school system. Click on the “school configuration” discussion and you’ll find an outline of the proposal and a few comments. Of course, the public can still voice concerns the old-fashioned way — at the Board of School Committee meeting public forum. The board is slated to discuss the redistricting plan May 9.

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THE CRACK OF THE GAVEL was at full volume again at Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting thanks to the craftsmanship of William Glennon. As reported previously in this column, the aldermanic chamber’s gavel was stolen this year and was replaced by a smaller, less weighty gavel that lacked the attention-grabbing smack needed to call the meetings to order.

Glennon donated not only one full-sized gavel to the city but also a replacement gavel, in the event of another theft — or more likely a break.

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THREE NEW MEMBERS were appointed to the Manchester Development Corporation last week: legislative analyst Adam Schmidt; surveyor and septic system designer Joseph Wichert; and Wells Fargo Advisors branch manager Joshua Wright. The mayor has also nominated Kevin McCue to fill Lou DeMato’s spot on the Planning Board and Ray Clement to fill A. Joseph Dion’s seat on the Planning Board.

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THE WEEK’S MOST NOTABLE nomination has to be Colin Manning, the former New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent, Fosters Daily Democrat political reporter and current press secretary for Gov. John Lynch. Gatsas submitted his nomination to the Fire Commission last week, and the aldermen will decide whether to confirm Manning at their May 3 meeting.

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THERE ARE JOGGERS and there are runners, and Alderman Joyce Craig is certainly a runner. The Ward 1 alderman finished the 2011 Boston Marathon in 3 hours, 43 minutes, which oddly enough is about the same length as Tuesday’s alderman meeting and arguably just as grueling. Craig ran with her husband, Michael Craig, who finished in 3 hours, 5 minutes.

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