Best News All Day 3-21-13

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA


A small item in the Conway Daily Sun caught my attention this morning. A new social media policy approved by the County Commissioners warns employees that if they identify themselves as an employee of the county, which most people do on Facebook as part of their basic info, their postings and actions could be considered reflective on the county.


The policy, which got the OK from the county’s HR specialist and an outside attorney, goes on to say, “Supervisors may be held personally responsible for offensive communication or photos that occur on social media sites between co-workers outside the workplace on personal equipment,” if that supervisor is “friends” or follows that co-worker.

While there are plenty of previous cases on the issue of social media and First Amendment rights, holding a supervisor accountable if an underling makes offensive posts? Seems a bit harsh.

Cases on this have been leaning more toward the employer than the employee, as we see in this Huffington Post fluff slideshow. Enjoy.

— Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers will rally today at noon against federal budget cuts that put their projects at risk. If any of you remember all that these workers did (most of them union) to keep the PNSY open during the last BRAC, you know these men and women don’t fool around.

— On the defense cuts theme, Sen. Kelly Ayotte spoke earlier this week about cutting the “missile to nowhere,” explained below and put in context in this NYT article.

“Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, pleaded to kill what she called a missile to nowhere — a European-based missile defense system that both the Senate and House armed services committees have repeatedly tried to zero out — and to shift the money to military operations and maintenance.

‘There’s not going to be another funding bill for the government until the end of this federal fiscal year,’ she said. ‘This is our only opportunity.'”

— I was in college when they were expanding the east side of Route 101. I remember because I has to drive the road four times a year to get to the Manchester Airport (which it was appropriately called back then). I’ve always wondered why the same courtesy was never extended on the west side of Route 101, seeing as there are many people who travel the road every day and it is a complete traffic nightmare. It looks like the NHDOT is now planning to do so, and spoke in Bedford with residents about what an expansion would look like. Residents are worried the expansion would make Route 101 a barrier from one side of town to the other.

— From the Nashua Telegraph, “Casino bill authors vow to avoid tying expanded gambling to budget battle.” Good luck with that.

— Also from Nashua, the school budget gets a small cut.

Union drama … again in Manchester.

As someone who belongs to a union and has seen contentious contract negotiations play out in the workplace, I find it fascinating the way public unions and government hash out contract deals so publicly. The media, in this case pretty much just me and the stories I write, can be seen as a problem or a tool by either side in getting what they want. Manchester teachers have long argued they have made concessions more than other city unions. More give-backs is not what the members are looking for. But school and city officials argue that holding out and forcing 160 or more layoffs could not only hurt schools and make teachers’ jobs nearly impossible, but it could also turn public sentiment against those who stand in front of the classroom.

Holding out at this point also puts allies of the teachers on the Board of Aldermen in a tough spot. After promising to give more money to schools if the unions show movement on concessions, it will be hard to convince those aldermen on the fence to shift money from city services to the one group that has decided to stand its ground in this year’s labor dispute.

This week’s column also got to note the work of a behind-the-scenes player in Manchester, Kevin O’Maley. As the overseer of all city buildings, he has worked hard to improve energy efficiency, showing that being environmentally friendly doesn’t have to be this dramatic political fight, but just makes common sense when done right.


Vote against school contract sends aldermen wrong signal

SINCE MAYOR Ted Gatsas laid out his budget, aldermen have been looking for more money for the Manchester School District. The amount the city can give schools under the new tax cap is about $12 million below what the district says it needs to keep staffing and services at today’s level. This column reported last month that if school unions signaled they would make concessions to save jobs, the aldermen would consider shifting more city funds over to the school side.

On April 17, the Manchester Education Association’s executive board voted against a tentative agreement reached by school and union leaders.

This was not the signal the aldermen were looking for.
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The Prediction Game

Some good advice I received a few years back about covering politics was that people never hold political journalists accountable for their predictions. If you call the race for one candidate and the other wins, well then you get to write about the upset. If you pick the correct horse, then you’re deemed a savvy political mind for properly crunching the data.

Another way to get in some “analysis” without taking on the prediction yourself is to get others to predict what happened. This week I tried just that by asking all the aldermen I could whether a tax cap override is possible.


Aldermen flirt with tax cap override, but refuse to commit

THE ALDERMEN INDICATED on Tuesday there may be enough votes for a tax cap override. They also made clear they don’t want to vote on it right now.

Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur made a motion at the end of Tuesday’s lengthy school budget discussion to stay within the tax cap as “a test vote.”

“I’m calling our bluff,” he said.

After a quick moment of protest, Alderman Tom Katsiantonis moved to table the item. The tabling motion passed, 10-4, with Aldermen Levasseur, Phil Greazzo, Jim Roy and Bill Shea voting no.

Later that meeting — at 12:30 a.m. — Alderman Patrick Long made a motion to override the tax cap by 1 percent. The aldermen shot each other surprised looks until Alderman Russ Ouellette made a motion to table that proposal, too. It passed, 11-3, with Long, Roy and Levasseur voting no.

The two motions will appear on the board’s agenda again this month.

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Budget season

The longer I do it, the more I realize budget debates are all the same. The only thing that differs is the size of the fight.

The debate over the school budget has become pretty serious, with more than 200 people showing up at a budget hearing this week, followed by a three-hour aldermen hearing about schools. This column, which appeared before those hearings, got 60 comments and drew education advocates, union bashers and simple spendthrifts to the table.

After going through a tough union negotiation battle with my company this fall and winter myself, I understood that such events have an effect on morale and condition of the workplace. When you take that idea and apply it to people who educate children all day, I thought it touched on something interesting … how worrying about your job year after year affects the face you put on for the kids each day. I also wondered is it solely up to the teachers to make their workplace better or do city and school leaders have a responsibility in it too.

Threat of layoffs creates ‘terrible’ morale for school staff

The school board’s decision to pink slip 161 school staffers last week came as a surprise to some board members, who entered the chambers that evening under the assumption that the votes to pass a reduction in force were not there.

Since then, the reality has sunk in, especially for teachers, and the union leadership has met to discuss the ramifications of the layoffs. As of Wednesday, there were no plans to bring the entire union membership together to talk about concessions.

With little movement expected from either side, both school and union top officials said the vote has further chipped away at the staff’s already low morale.

“Right now, people aren’t feeling good, especially after that meeting,” said Manchester Education Association President Ben Dick.

Staff morale is “terrible,” said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan. “People are very anxious and concerned about their livelihood.”

Although the deadline for laying off teachers is not until May, Brennan said his staff will soon determine how to spread the 161 pink slips throughout the district.

“We certainly have the obligation to give all the staff time to get into the job market earlier,” said Brennan.

When those pink slips do come out, they’ll be hand delivered by Brennan, which he sees as his responsibility.

“My name is on the bottom of that page,” he said.

Mayor Ted Gatsas sees the teachers’ down attitude in another light.

“It seems as though the morale in the city (employees) was the same thing,” said Gatsas. “We came to an agreement with the unions on concessions, and it seems the morale has changed 180 degrees.”

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As we approach the election, it’s getting harder and harder to decide what goes in week to week. I wasn’t even sure about the liquor store, until I went to the meeting.


‘A lot of spin’ put on deal for liquor store says alderman

Building a state liquor store at the corner of Granite and Second streets wasn’t the most popular idea to come before the aldermen this year, but on Tuesday, a majority of the board voted to move forward with a land swap that would allow the state to build a 10,000-square-foot store on the city-owned lot.

Manchester stands to earn $65,000 annually from the state over the next 25 years for the high-visibility location, and West Side residents would no longer have to go to Bedford or cross the river to buy their booze. But board members such as Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil didn’t see the benefit to the city or the state in the deal. He and Aldermen Betsi DeVries, Garth Corriveau and Patrick Arnold voted against the project.

O’Neil told the board he had met with the state Liquor Commission and members of the city’s legislative delegation and was under the impression the state would rather buy the land than lease it.

“They said they’d be paying more for the land lease than if they purchased property,” said O’Neil. He also wonders why people heading up the highway would stop in Manchester to buy liquor when they could more easily do so up the road in Hooksett.

“There’s a lot of spin,” O’Neil said of the project. “It seems for many this was a done deal in the spring time.”

Arnold then asked the obvious question. Why exactly was the state willing to pay more for a lease than simply buying the land?

“I identified the location as a great location,” said Andy Davis, director of real estate for the commission. “Fairly early on meeting with Mayor (Ted) Gatsas and the (Manchester Development Corporation), they voted not to sell it to us because we would not be paying taxes. We still feel the location is a high-value target.”

Davis said on Wednesday the liquor store is anything but a done deal. The lease would need separate approval from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the Attorney General’s Office and the Executive Council.

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It’s a race

Someone today mentioned to me that the 2011 city elections were going to be the most boring in history. Despite this, I remain optimistic.

July 17 City Hall Column

LAST WEEK was the kickoff of the city election season, giving little time for the bumps and bruises suffered during this year’s budget battle to heal before entering the next fight.

And with an even tougher budget season looming, voters can bet there will be little else discussed during the city campaign season besides spending and taxes.

It’s the first thing Zoning Board Chairman Brian Desfosses mentioned when asked why he had entered the Ward 6 alderman race.

“I’m sort of a conservative, and in the coming few years, the budget is going to get much tighter than it is now,” said Desfosses. “I’m someone out there who’s working, has little kids, who’s very busy, but still trying to take time to make sure my interests are represented on the board … I don’t see a whole lot of that on the board right now.”

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Under my umbrella-ella-ella

Laying blame. It’s what makes up the bulk of any political debate. I felt Avard did a great job of making a clear and persuasive case that the blame wasn’t just on school staff or the board. And there was the umbrella item, which cannot be beat.

Avard blames officials, not unions, for budget standoff

There’s been a lot of blame levied at the city and school employee unions this budget season, but Board of School Committee member John Avard criticized his fellow officials last week for their support of a contract extension that some claim is far too generous.

In 2009, the city and the school district struck a deal with staff that would delay cost-of-living increases in exchange for a three-year contract extension. The extension promised full cost-of-living raises in the next two years of the contract, which Avard said some school board members “stood firmly against.”

“We said we cannot afford this contract and in future it will result in significant layoffs or asking for concessions,” said Avard. “We were told the money will be there. The aldermen said we won’t let you down. So far, I’m feeling let down.” Continue reading

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.” Continue reading

Manchester teachers say no to health care concessions

Budget follow-up with the awesome reporting help of Mark Hayward.

Manchester teachers say health care concessions off the table in budget fight

Thursday, March 3, 2011

MANCHESTER – Junking the plan of Mayor Ted Gatsas, the Manchester school board is backing a proposed budget that spends more than the mayor wants to, limits layoffs of paraprofessionals but ends with a $2.5 million question mark.

Meanwhile, a teachers’ union official said concessions on health care are off the table, and teachers are ready for layoffs if that turns out to be the case. Scott McGilvray, president of the Manchester Education Association, said teachers already agreed to four years of health-care concessions in 2009.

“We’re already ahead of everyone else (in givebacks), yet they come after teachers time and time again,” said McGilvray, whose union represents 1,200 teachers. Continue reading

School Board budget talks continue

For the past two weeks, the Manchester Board of School Committee has been trying to hammer out a budget, but talks have stalled on the three proposals outlined below. When the board returns from February break, they are expected to take a vote.

School Board Weighs 3 budget options

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2010

MANCHESTER — When the Board of School Committee votes on a budget next month, it will have three proposals to choose from, each including a possible tax increase.

The three varying proposals indicate a wide range of opinions of the school board regarding how much it should cut school programs to keep tax increases down. The board’s lack of consensus and lengthy debates over the budget now have the Board of Mayor and Aldermen wondering how much longer it will take for the school board to reach a decision. Continue reading