Of all the people I met, I was most star struck by an early ’00s MTV anchor

I loved Gideon Yago and his Rivers Cuomo glasses. He was was a little nerdy, a little hipster and a little snarky. And Chris Cilliza was there too. Double nerd yum. It made me wish I had gotten more than 5 hours of sleep the night before and showered that morning. Had I only known the star power MTV brings…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yeah. And John Edwards said some stuff.

It’s the little things that get the biggest reaction

One of the best things about my job is I get to see the little power plays and true personalities of public officials. Some people must have a baby toe in every action, while others have a problem watching what they say. Both those things happened here. And some people got mad at me. At least something interesting came out of TS Irene.

High praise for city’s actions during Irene’s visit

IN THE AFTERMATH of Tropical Storm Irene, high praise went to city police, firefighters, highway workers and other staff for their efficient handling of the havoc the storm wrought.

The compliments were particularly plentiful from the aldermen. There was just one problem — communication was lacking.

Leaving an alderman out of the loop has long been a major no-no in Manchester politics. If power is out in a section of a ward or the nearby fire station has to divert an engine across the city for the day, that ward alderman expects to be notified.

So when a call was made to run all storm-related information through the mayor’s office, a debate via email ensued.

Alderman At-Large Dan O’Neil started off an email on Monday with a “great job” and followed with a polite request for better communication on the front-end of the storm, specifically getting the city’s emergency contact number out to the public sooner.

“I would ask in the future that all aldermen be briefed in advance of our plans and be notified by phone (not emails) of meetings and briefings during the event,” wrote O’Neil in an email obtained by the City Hall column.

“If someone wants to change anything, bring it before the board of aldermen,” wrote Alderman At-Large Mike Lopez. “We also know that our department heads have their hands full and they know what to do.

You cannot have 14 people in charge in emergencies but I can tell you everything did work out and if something would have happened the aldermen would have been called.”

He finishes with “Thanks to all GREAT JOB.”

Ward 11 Alderman Russ Ouellette then joined in, saying department heads have more important tasks during an emergency than calling each alderman.

“If aldermen want information the aldermen should contact the mayor’s office or his designee for concerns of wards or any other information,” Ouellette wrote.

“The people of this city look to the mayor and ALL alderman for help and solutions,” O’Neil fired back. “You may not want to know what is going on in the city but I do. I don’t report to the mayor or his designee. I report to the citizens of Manchester.”
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THIS COLUMN REPORTED last week that Mayor Ted Gatsas asked department heads for 2013 budget projections. In response, Manchester firefighters’ union President Ryan Cashin sent out a press release asking Gatsas to fix this year’s budget before moving on to the next.

“The facts are clear. Arson and crime are on the rise in the city of Manchester.

Making sweeping cuts to public safety during these times is not in the best interest of the people of Manchester,” wrote Cashin.

Overall crime is up slightly according to police statistics from 2010. Arsons are up but violent crime in the city is down slightly.

Though Gatsas denied requesting budget numbers this early was part of a campaign strategy, the expected grim numbers will inevitably force candidates to take a stand on spending.

Cashin not-so-subtly criticized Gatsas for the move.

“We cannot focus on election gimmicks at a time when the public safety of the people of Manchester is at risk,” he wrote. “Mayor Gatsas and the Aldermanic Board need to focus on reprioritizing this budget, not the future one. The Mayor needs to put his focus off the upcoming election and onto public safety.” Continue reading

The B word

I wanted to die when the I heard budget talks were starting so early. The daily grind of keeping up with the fights and the financials wore me down. I had to get it in here somehow. Wordies will like the involuntary resignation bit too. I know I did.

Gatsas wants early budget review, says its no election ploy

It may seem painfully early to start talking about the 2013 budget cycle, but Mayor Ted Gatsas recently told city department heads to have next year’s budget projections to him in the next few weeks. The mayor will bring the budget drafts to the aldermen as soon as he gets them, Gatsas said Thursday.

“The earlier we get the chance to start looking at this, the more we’re going to understand where we’re at,” said Gatsas. “I’d rather have eight months to try to resolve the problem than three.”

Early projections have pointed to a $22 million budget increase next year if all services and programs remain the same. This situation could worsen in light of hospital funding cuts that are expected to drive up medical costs and changes to the New Hampshire Retirement System enacted by the Legislature.

This early budget request happens to come during a city election year, and although Gatsas denies it’s a political move, the mayor is already practicing his budget talking points.

“Are we going to raise taxes by 14 percent or lay off police and firefighters?” Gatsas asked. The answer lies in the city unions’ willingness to open their contracts and offer concessions, he said.

“This is not something I haven’t been saying,” said Gatsas. “We need to start the discussion because I think people need to know how their elected officials are going to take care of it.”

Continue reading

The missed opportunity of the WT comment

So many things to say about this column. First, it is tagged under “War on Terror” on the Union Leader website. Wha? Then there are the accusations that I’m too liberal because I raised the point that Manchester has a lot of poor people and perhaps people should pay more attention to who gets the Welfare Commissioner job. And there’s this whole white trash comment. I really wanted this controversy to be an opportunity to discuss the WT term. I know people who refer to themselves as WT, who call others WT, but I wonder how different it is when the term is used against you, or against someone close to you. Does the term have the same sting and cause offense like other terms that call people out for being poor?

Race for welfare commissioner should focus on those served

NOW THAT Joe Briggs is out of the alderman at-large race, it looks like the most exciting contest on the city primary ballot is for welfare commissioner.

Seriously.

Former Alderman Peter Sullivan came out swinging early in the race when he accused current Commissioner Paul Martineau of treating the poor with scorn. Martineau came right back at Sullivan, dismissing outright Sullivan’s claims and pointing to his own record of keeping down costs.

Then Martineau’s former employee, Diane Guimond, entered the race.

Guimond began working at the Welfare Department under the previous commissioner, Susan Lafond. She served as deputy welfare commissioner under Martineau until she left the post on less-than-agreeable terms. She said she understood his efforts to control costs, “but I thought he could have been nicer about it.”

That’s about as harsh as Guimond will get when it comes to criticizing her previous boss. She’d rather focus on how to do things better. The Welfare Department needs to better communicate with state and federal leaders, she said, and talk to the public about the work the office does and who uses its services.

“It’s not just immigrants. It’s the working poor getting poorer and the middle class afraid of becoming working poor,” said Guimond. “We need to show some compassion and respect to the people walking through the door.”

It was compassion and respect that drove the race’s fourth candidate, Jean Davis, to run.

Davis, who has worked in the social services both professionally and as a volunteer, said that on her first trip into the office, she was taken aback.

“I’d never ever seen such mean-spiritedness and lack of professionalism,” she said, referring to the way the clients were treated. If elected, Davis said, she would foster a culture of compassion in the office, work to create partnerships with local businesses and try to instill an attitude of self-reliance among the clients.

While it’s clear these three challengers intend to run a tough campaign and Martineau will not shy away from defending himself, this race should be about more than just slinging barbs and which party lands the win on Election Day.

In a city where nearly 40 percent of students participate in free- or reduced-price lunch programs because their parents make only slightly more than the poverty level; and where low-income housing is controversial; and where the strain on local social services and a lack of clean, inexpensive housing has in part led the aldermen to request a moratorium on refugees resettlement, it’s time the people have a conversation about the poor.

Continue reading

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.” Continue reading

On the trail again

I don’t get to cover the presidential primary much with all there is to do at City Hall, but I try my hardest to cover candidates when they head downtown. Usually, it’s a guided tour from the mayor, who knows the friendly shops and half the people walking down the street. On this tour, I was joined by about a dozen reporters and photographers, including a New York Times reporter who chatted me up. That’s a pretty big gaggle for a hokey August photo op, but this year’s presidential primary couldn’t get any more boring, or at least it was up until this point. Huntsman did alright. He was actually engaging, not just glossing over when the man-on-the-street talked to him. And he spent about 20 minutes in the City Year HQ, which showed me he actually liked the idea of people helping others. There were also no gaffes. A major triumph on the trail.

Gatsas keeps Huntsman waiting, makes no commitment

If you’re a political candidate looking to gain ground in Manchester, you could do worse than to get a guided tour from Mayor Ted Gatsas.

But when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman showed up for a walk down Elm Street with Gatsas last Wednesday, the mayor was nowhere to be found. Huntsman played it cool, heading up the stairs of City Hall to wait in the comfort of the mayor’s office. The New York Times pointed out Gatsas’ late arrival, noting he appeared a little sheepish when he rolled up in his white Mercedes-Benz.

“I was at the Kiwanis luncheon,” Gatsas told us.

After a 10-minute confab, the mayor and Huntsman emerged from City Hall. A gaggle of 15 reporters and photographers swarmed the Republican presidential candidate, and Gatsas lunged out of the way of the media members’ lenses and microphones.

Huntsman spoke about the race in general — “Polls don’t matter until the fall” — and retail politics — “We’re here meeting folks … This is how it’s done in New Hampshire” — and then he was off to meet and greet.

Huntsman spoke with a man gobbling down a slice outside of Tedy J’s and popped into the City Year offices to talk about the work the corps members will do in schools this coming year. Huntsman even took a moment to chat up another political candidate, this one running for Ward 3 moderator. Moses Sawyer, who had previously served as a poll worker in Portland, Maine, stopped with an armful of groceries to talk to the governor. The conversation ended with a soft commitment of support on both men’s part.

“I’ll follow your campaign if you follow mine,” offered Huntsman.

Sawyer agreed, vigorously shaking Huntsman’s hand. Continue reading

Refugees, absentee reps and voter rolls

Refugee issues dominated the week’s news and got the commenters’ fingers wagging.

Gatsas stands firm on refugee moratorium

Mayor Ted Gatsas has declared war on the International Institute of New England.

The refugee resettlement agency has long been criticized by city officials for a lack of communication as to when and how many refugees are headed to Manchester each year. The aldermen asked for a moratorium last week, and Gatsas said on Friday he would not meet with International Institute officials until after they have withdrawn their application to bring more refugees to the city.

The moratorium comes on the heels of a tough and contentious budget year in which city social service agencies were staring down deep cuts. This strain on services seemed like a reason to slow the influx of people who are most likely to need them, but it’s not just new refugees who would need these services, it’s the ones who are already here. Twenty-six refugee families were in the city welfare office two weeks ago looking for help after their state rental assistance was cut off.

But Gatsas said the moratorium was not about the money, “it’s about the people and the refugees themselves.” Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

Ode to the school board

Being on the school board is a thankless job. I would argue the most thankless out of all locally elected posts. Sometimes it’s good to acknowledge that.

Board caught between a squawk and a hard-times place

AS DIFFICULT as it is to sit on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the job of a Manchester Board of School Committee member is unenviable.

Members regularly hear from parents, teachers and students about important programs that can’t possibly be cut and what a struggle it is to muddle through with what little schools have now. Any attempts to fix these problems are limited by the aldermen, who control how much money city schools get year to year. This fiscal arrangement traps every school board member in a tight spot between those asking for more and those reluctant to give it. Continue reading

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