Best. Meeting. Ever.

Covering meetings is painfully boring. It’s amazing to me how many people choose to take in a meeting via public access TV at home. I watch them because I get paid. There are, however, those few and far between meetings that are non-stop action. This was one. Free staters and police and people angry about the budget. When I woke up the next day brain-fried, I wondered if it all had really happened or if it were merely a dream.

Aldermen lose their wheels; protesters left spinning theirs

It started with a broken-down bus and ended with a stalemate.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s epic, eight-hour meeting on Tuesday had conflict, confrontation and tons of drama — and that was before the board even started talking about the budget.

The aldermen were called to order at 6 p.m. for a hearing related to South Willow Street’s road classification and to tour the pertinent section of roadway. Moments after some of the board members drove off in their bus, a crew of about 20 people upset by the recent arrest of protesters outside the Manchester police station, filled the aldermanic chambers with video cameras and a large yellow banner that read: “Liberty. Too big to fail.”

At 7 p.m., Mayor Ted Gatsas was supposed to call to order the public hearing portion of the meeting; instead, Alderman at-large Mike Lopez took the podium to announce the bus had broken down on the way back to City Hall and the meeting would start a little late.

“I knew when that bus broke down it was not the start of a good night,” said Alderman Garth Corriveau. “Then we got a call that Free-Staters had invaded City Hall , and it just kept going from there.”

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BESIDES A FEW REGULARS, there usually aren’t that many people who come out to speak during the public comment period. But with major budget cuts and the police protesters, public comment lasted nearly an hour on Tuesday. There were opponents to MTA bus route cuts and opponents to paraprofessional cuts. Howard McCarthy, the city’s biggest advocate of the Mayor’s Senior Luncheon, said he was looking forward to the event this Friday, but questioned why it had to be held at the Radisson Hotel, a far-too-costly venue for the cash-strapped event. Manchester Public Television Service host Glenn Ouellette, another regular, chastised the aldermen for selling off MCAM property, including a U.S. Constitution banner given to the nonprofit television organization by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich. He had yet to hear from the city about the complaint and threatened to go to the attorney general if MCAM did not receive a reply.

But the topic that garnered the most public comment on Tuesday was the police department.

Seven of the protesters got up one by one and criticized the Manchester Police Department for arresting the eight protesters on June 4 and confiscating their phones and cameras. Then during a break, some of the protesters confronted Police Chief David Mara and two uniformed officers dispatched to the meeting to keep the peace. Video cameras and accusations were shoved in their faces while the rest of the audience — including two elementary school students who were there to lead the chamber in the Pledge of Allegiance — awkwardly stood by watching. Mara and his officers ignored them, and the group eventually trickled out the back of the chamber.

Some of the protesters who spoke brought up the impending budget vote and questioned the amount of money going to the police department. Their comments were noted by the aldermen but didn’t quite have the intended effect. Some aldermen later said they would support funding for hiring five to 10 more officers this summer, pointing to the ruckus in City Hall as a good example of why a well-staffed police force is important in Manchester.

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CONCERNS ABOUT closing fire stations, laying off school staff, cutting bus service and closing a library branch have all received plenty of attention this budget season, but social services and public health would take deep hits, too, under the current proposal.

Office of Youth Services Director Marty Boldin informed the aldermen on Tuesday that OYS is set to lose $45,000 in state funding for substance abuse prevention among Manchester’s at-risk teens. This would cause the layoff of one staffer and affect about 250 young people in the city schools. Health Director Tim Soucy said he’s preparing to close the city’s STD/HIV testing clinic at the end of the month because he would lose the $150,000 he needed from the state to fund it.

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A RUMOR HAS BEEN FLOATING AROUND the city for weeks that Manchester City Democratic Chairman Mike Brunelle has his sights set on a mayoral run. After the rumor was noted in this column last week, City Hall did a little more reporting and proved it to be untrue.

At this point, Brunelle said, he is not considering taking on Gatsas, though some days he thinks he could probably do a better job than the mayor is doing.

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CANDIDATE JANE BEAULIEUis rethinking her bid for the at-large seat and is instead leaning toward a run for Ward 10 alderman. The seat is held by the board’s sole Republican, Phil Greazzo, who is seen by some Democrats as beatable this fall.

“He really doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the city,” said Beaulieu.

Beaulieu has gathered a support network of former state representatives and aldermen from the West Side, and while she is a registered Democrat, Beaulieu said she is working with people in both parties to prepare for the race.

“Most people know, if they’ve seen my voting record (as a former state representative) they see that I’m a pretty independent voter,” she said.

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