Scoop of lemons

When Alderman Garth Corriveau gave this scoop to another reporter, I was miffed. I’m the one and only Manchester City Hall reporter. These are things I should get. Well, Corriveau made it up to me (as you’ll see in a later post) and the initial scoopage gave me a little extra gumption to stick my neck out and do some actual analysis. Lemons into lemonade, as they say.

Corriveau in ‘exploratory’ mode on mayoral run

ALDERMAN Garth Corriveau teased the local media last week with hints about a possible run for mayor. Now in the “exploratory” mode, he’s talking to political players both inside and outside of Manchester looking for advice on his next move. This despite Corriveau being well-positioned for reelection to his Ward 6 seat, as are the other Democratic aldermen who have announced intentions to run. No one has announced a run against Corriveau yet, either, which could mean an easy skate to a second term and a solid foundation for higher political office.

Here’s another thing for Corriveau — or whichever Democrat steps up to the plate — to consider. The corner office on the third floor of City Hall is Mayor Ted Gatsas’ to lose.

Gatsas lent himself $25,000 for his reelection campaign last quarter. About half of that has already been spent for campaign work by the politically savvy marketing company wedu. There’s also a fund-raiser scheduled for Gatsas on June 16 at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

On the policy front, Gatsas has so far outmaneuvered the Board of Aldermen on the budget by coming in with a 3.4 percent tax increase. The aldermen were in Frank Guinta mode, aiming to save the day by restoring money to a slash-and-burn budget. Now the aldermen are struggling to come up with a budget compromise.

There’s a reason no one has announced running against Gatsas: Democrats have yet to agree upon a strategy for defeating him. And it might also be that with 13 of 14 seats on the board of aldermen, Democrats know the mayor can’t do anything without them, and that’s a pretty good position to be in heading into an election.

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ONE OF THE MAYOR’S weaknesses is his admitted frustration with Board of School Committee member Joe Briggs. The Ward 2 board member has raised the mayor’s blood pressure on more than a few issues. The latest is Briggs’ calling into question Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan’s allegiance to the board, and whether Brennan favors the mayor’s budget over the board’s.

Under the city charter, the superintendent of schools presents a budget, the school committee amends it, and it is presented to the aldermen as a joint effort. The mayor presents his own budget, and this time around, it ended up being very similar to the one Brennan presented. Both have said they came up with it together.

“I was concerned about the independence of Dr. Brennan’s support for the mayor’s budget that would require a dramatic reduction of paraprofessionals instead of a gradual phasing out,” said Briggs, referring to the 200 paraprofessionals Brennan has said he would lay off. The superintendent’s support of such drastic cuts, Briggs worries, might be the result of intimidation from Gatsas.

“Dr. Brennan’s independence seemed to take a turn last year after the mayor angrily threatened his job in a non-public session if a personnel decision which the mayor opposed did not work out,” said Briggs. That made the superintendent “visibly upset,” Briggs said. “Since then, the superintendent has been in lock-step with the mayor on controversial political issues, such as combining school IT with the city, excessive parental interference, disruptive school realignment and, most recently, stepping outside of the charter to stand at direct odds with the committee over the budget.”

Brennan said he is in full support of the school board’s budget and that he presented the deep cuts in light of the city’s grim fiscal outlook.

“That’s what I thought was the right thing to do,” said Brennan. “I’m not picking sides. I’m just trying to be realistic.”

“He stands on his own two feet and makes his own decisions,” Gatsas said of Brennan. “If for one second he thought he was being pressured, he wouldn’t communicate with me as much as he does. He understands that 100 percent of my effort is about education and kids, and that’s exactly where he is.”

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THERE’S BEEN a lot of talk about elected officials not following the charter, so I took a look at the document myself and found a few more. Take Section 9.03 part f) on financial disclosure. It requires the mayor, aldermen, school committee members and welfare commissioner to disclose individual and business financial relationships, including place of employment or business ownership. The filings are due annually by Jan. 15, but a recent search of the forms at the City Clerk’s Office showed that only six of the 14 school committee members turned in their forms. The two at-large aldermen also did not turn in forms.

Of those who did turn in disclosures, all were dated after Jan. 15, except one, from Alderman Ed Osborne, which included no information except his signature.

When this was pointed out to Brennan, he said he would send out a reminder to the board.

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MAKING SURE EVERYONE is on the same page with the rules and regulations is something Brennan plans to recommend for new school board members later this year. Although they review appropriate behavior and procedures at the beginning of each term, it’s not a formal orientation.

“They’re going to have one this year,” said Brennan. He is looking to bring a representative from the New Hampshire School Boards Association to review not only procedures but also their legal responsibilities.

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THE BUDGET PROCESS has been dragged out long enough, but there’s solace knowing it all must be done by June 14; that is unless the mayor vetoes it.

According to charter Section 6.04 part c) on budget adoption, the aldermen must approve an amended budget by the second Tuesday in June. If the mayor vetoes any part of the budget, however, the aldermen have until the end of June to come up with enough votes to override it or craft a compromise.

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EVEN WITH THE EXTRA TIME, a budget compromise is looking pretty unlikely.

“I don’t see us voting soon,” said Alderman At-Large Dan O’Neil. “I think the key factor is trying to get an agreement with the bargaining units. If we fail to get a deal, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to do anything.”

“We’re in a holding pattern,” said Alderman Patrick Arnold. “The fact we don’t yet know how much savings can be found (with concessions), it’s difficult to present an alternative proposal without knowing those numbers.”

“I don’t think anyone is coming forward with any ideas,” said Alderman At-Large Mike Lopez. “Some people want the library open; some people want the police; some people want the planning department; people are all over the place.”

If the aldermen are going to raise taxes, there might be room to do so, but the consensus is that property owners would revolt if the increase went above 4.9 percent, sources on the board said last week. Then the question is: Who gets it?

“Even if you raise taxes, you can’t please everyone,” Lopez said.

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NEWT GINGRICH WASN’T THE ONLY one to launch a campaign last week. Former state representative candidate Roy Shoults Sr. has announced a run for Board of School Committee, at-large.

“In recent years, I have been very concerned about the schools, for I am seeing the school administrations, school boards and teachers via their unions as being more concerned with other than assuring that the children are being given the best education possible,” said Shoults. “My primary concern is assuring that the children do receive the best education possible.”

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