More budget please

Another process piece. One lesson learned this week, though, was if someone says something controversial about a politician and you want to use it, you better call the insulted party to get a comment.

Aldermen running out of time in budget contest

IF THE ALDERMEN are going to come up with an alternative budget, they better move fast.

Here are their choices: Raise taxes higher than the mayor’s proposed 3.37 percent and face angry constituents at election time, or rely on union concessions for some much-needed fiscal wiggle room.

Talks with the Manchester Professional Fire Fighters Association looked promising earlier this month, but sources on the board say a resulting deal is on life support. On Tuesday, the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association showed up at a last-minute aldermen meeting, proposal in hand and ready for a discussion, but the aldermen shut the door and met without the police union in non-public, referring the union reps instead to city negotiators: Finance Director Bill Sanders and City Solicitor Tom Clark.

“Some aldermen reached out to us as to what our best and last offer was. We were ready to go, but they didn’t want to hear it in that forum,” said Officer Dave Connare, president of the police union. “So now we’re back to discussions with Bill Sanders and Tom Clark.”

Before the closed-door session, there seemed to be some confusion as to why the aldermen were even meeting. Union discussions haven’t been going well, said Alderman At-Large Dan O’Neil, so maybe negotiators should try something different. Neither side can just sit back and wait for the other to make a move anymore, he said.

“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t have something coming forward to us by Tuesday but it’s up to both sides to get together,” said O’Neil. “It can get done. There just has to be a willingness on both sides.”

But Mayor Ted Gatsas said there has to be more than willingness. There must be meaningful savings. His idea of meaningful savings is $6 million in health insurance concessions. The city’s largest unions say they aren’t even considering that.

For the aldermen to come up with an alternative to the mayor’s budget before the June 14 deadline, the union proposals must be finalized soon. The aldermen will then have to decide: Is some union money better than no union money at all?

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DECIDING WHERE that money is going will be an entirely separate battle. O’Neil made clear last week that in his opinion, public safety is Priority 1.

“I think we have to sit down and revisit what are the essential services in the city,” O’Neil said Tuesday, according to unofficial meeting minutes. “I can tell you that police and fire are essential services, not administrative people sitting around City Hall in other departments. I will gladly lead the effort in the public support that if there are going to be layoffs, it is not going to be police officers and firefighters.”

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CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL students may leave for summer vacation not knowing who their principal will be next year. Of the 13 people who have applied to replace retiring Principal John Rist, the school superintendent has interviewed two. On Monday, Superintendent Thomas Brennan told the Board of School Committee that neither candidate passed muster and he was reopening the search.

“As superintendent of schools, I would not bring forward a name I was uncomfortable with or does not meet the standards of the job,” said Brennan. He is now turning to the state principals association to recruit either an interim principal or a permanent replacement. Because Central is the city’s largest school, where at last count 72 different languages could be heard among members of the student body, Brennan is looking for someone who can handle the responsibility and live up to the high standards set by Central’s many alumni.

The new search will probably extend to other states to find a candidate who has run an urban high school, Brennan said.

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WHOEVER THE CANDIDATE IS better be made aware of the district’s residency requirement. The policy, which requires principals live in Manchester, has already hampered the search, not only for a Central principal but also for the Hallsville Elementary School principal job.

Brennan told the school board last week that the Hallsville search has been extended indefinitely because two of the three finalists dropped out, citing reluctance to abide by the residency requirement.

The Central search has been less affected by the requirement, Brennan said, but some potential candidates he spoke with didn’t apply for the job because they weren’t interested in moving.

Last month, the school board voted to make an exception to the requirement for employees who had worked for the district before the policy was enacted, but Brennan is still having trouble finding Manchester candidates.

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FORMER STATE REP AND ALDERMAN Peter Sullivan has made official his run for welfare commissioner. In a news release this month, Sullivan said he wants to “reinvent the department” and better connect families with community resources.

“The current commissioner sees needy families and social service agencies as the opposition and treats them with scorn,” said Sullivan. “I see them as members of our larger family and will treat them with respect and cooperation.”

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