Leaving a mark

Yikes! It didn’t take long for things to get back to their normal, ankle-biting ways here in Manchester. Even the candidates that decide to leave town are coming out swinging. I’ll just let this week’s speak for itself.

School board member Joe Briggs may be leaving, but he’s left his mark

In his nearly two years as a public official, Joe Briggs has made a name for himself. Now this outspoken and sometimes controversial school board member is leaving Manchester and taking a job in Georgia.

Briggs is a Republican but bucks traditional party ideology by fighting for more spending on schools and the tax increases to pay for it. He has butted heads with Mayor Ted Gatsas many times and is one of the few people Gatsas has publicly acknowledged gets under his skin. Briggs has pushed for bringing sports to the middle schools, improving student access to technology and reducing classroom sizes. But Briggs has also drawn criticism for speaking his mind — sometimes a little too freely.

While announcing his move on the MPTV “Will & Joe Show” on Wednesday, Briggs used the term “white trash” to refer to some of Manchester’s residents. The term came up while discussing low-income housing, the city resources the tenants use and the immigrants and refugees who live there. Briggs argued there were other people besides the refugees who relied on low-income housing and services.

In an interview Thursday for this column, he elaborated: “Part of the problem — and I used the term ‘white trash’ — is they have a cycle of dependency. They use having babies as a way to stay on services. We all see it in Manchester. We have to recognize that’s an issue, and we have to deal with that.

“Some people just focused on the term ‘white trash,’ and people called me an elitist, but the people who called me an elitist are the ones who own these (low-income) properties” and are contributing to the problem.

Mayor Gatsas focused on the term in an interview on Thursday and said a lot of people called his office about it.

“After the comment he made last night about people in Manchester, the departure could not be soon enough,” said Gatsas. “Calling people in Manchester white trash is wrong … He should resign from the school board. That’s an absolutely wrong attitude to have in this city.”

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Briggs plans to complete his term and said he won’t leave Manchester until he sells his house.

It was the city schools and the most recent budget battle that led Briggs to look elsewhere to raise his four children, and it might be what keeps him here longer. He pointed to crowding at Weston Elementary School, where three of his four children attend.

“It’s a tough (housing) market, so it’s not going to be quick. I certainly can’t imagine someone looking at a house on Currier Hill who is not going to look at the elementary school down the street,” said Briggs.

Briggs has also filed to run for alderman at-large, but because he is changing his residency, he is no longer seeking the post.

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Mark MacKenzie isn’t giving up his fight against Manchester Republican state Rep. Thomas Beattie. Last month, the state AFL-CIO president, who also lives in Beattie’s district, asked Beattie whether he’d kindly step down. This month, MacKenzie is asking House Speaker Bill O’Brien to start proceedings to remove Beattie.

“As a constituent of Rep. Beattie, I feel he has not properly represented me,” MacKenzie wrote. “He has failed to appear, with very few exceptions, for House sessions, does not answer email, phone calls or postal mail, and has been reported to be working, according to a Union Leader article, out of state, which I assume limits his ability to participate.”

O’Brien spokesman Shannon Shutts said the office was unaware of any such letter and that the speaker wouldn’t be able to remove the elected official anyway.

“The speaker doesn’t have the authority to remove anyone,” said Shutts. “That’s up to the voters.”

Apparently, O’Brien has forgotten about the attempted removal of another state representative — this one a Democrat. In January, O’Brien ordered an investigation that could have resulted in Rep. Michael Brunelle losing his seat. The GOP ultimately discontinued the effort to oust Brunelle, who subsequently announced he will be leaving New Hampshire to head the Service Employees International Union in Pennsylvania.

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Mayoral candidate and Ward 4 school committee member Chris Herbert is asking the aldermen to hold a special meeting to address increased retirement costs downshifted from the New Hampshire Retirement System, which would cost the Manchester School District more than $700,000.

“The quality of education for our district’s 16,000 students is at risk without a clear answer as to how city leaders will be covering these additional downshifts from Concord to Manchester,” said Herbert.

In June, the aldermen voted to withhold payment to the retirement system until the various lawsuits and disputes over this issue were settled.

– – – – – – –

Alderman Patrick Arnold, a lawyer, was tapped last week to give the New Hampshire Democratic Party response after presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s appearance at the Manchester Rotary Club meeting on Monday. Too bad he had to work. The Rotarian usually attends the weekly lunches at Fratello’s. He was scheduled to be one of three local responders during Romney’s most recent swing through Manchester, Concord and Nashua, but a previously scheduled court appearance forced him to duck out.

After inquiring who filled in for Arnold, the state party sent along a statement from the alderman.

“The people of Manchester know what it’s like when Tea Party leaders are elected and have to deal with the serious business of the state. As a moderate who works with people on both sides of the aisle to get results, I reject the ultra-partisan politics of people like Mitt Romney,” Arnold said.

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