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Paul Feely's City Hall: Interim city solicitor says she wanted the challenge

By PAUL FEELY
July 16. 2017 1:46AM
Former U.S. Attorney Emily Gray Rice listens to a reporter's question after she was introduced as the interim city solicitor at City Hall in Manchester on July 10. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



When Mayor Ted Gatsas announced his choice for interim city solicitor last week, many were left wondering why attorney Emily Gray Rice - the former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire - would want to take the reins of a department embroiled in controversy, after longtime city solicitor Tom Clark retired following a review by the Attorney General's office of decisions made by one of his prosecutors in many cases involving domestic assault or abuse. (See related story, Page A1.)

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald faulted actions and decisions by the prosecutor, Andrea Muller. The review found she dropped some charges unnecessarily, she did not follow through when charges were conditionally dropped, and her case files lacked necessary paperwork.

MacDonald listed a series of corrective actions - including the immediate review of every conditional nonprosecuted case (CNP) and possible refiling of charges where appropriate - under the supervision of Hillsborough County Attorney Dennis Hogan.

The solicitor's office was also directed to "critically assess its policy of using CNP agreements to resolve its cases, and develop protocols concerning the Domestic Violence Prosecutor Unit prosecutor's management of cases.

Not an easy task for anyone, but Rice said she loves a good challenge. In fact, it was a "must" in terms of the three criteria she set for whatever she might do next, after resigning from her post as U.S. Attorney in March.

"The first criteria was it had to be a hard job," said Rice. "I like doing hard jobs, working with a team. I get a lot of satisfaction. The second criteria was that it be interesting, and I think everyone here would agree that having the opportunity to serve as interim city solicitor will be a very interesting job, and I am really so grateful for the opportunity."

Rice said the final requirement was that the job make a difference in people's lives.

"My third criteria was that it be impactful," said Rice. "I think that past events show that the work of the city solicitor's office here is very important to the government and the citizens of Manchester, and I'm very happy to be a part of making that impact."

As interim solicitor, Rice's duties will include the administrative authority of a city department head, responsibility for day-to-day office operations, overall management of the Office of the City Solicitor and oversight of personnel.

"I feel very fortunate the city has a solicitor of the caliber of Attorney Rice working on its behalf," said Gatsas. "There are other issues she has the credentials for. We have 17 unions here, and the labor employment experience she has will serve us well."

Rice has been given the go-ahead by aldermen to serve as interim solicitor for the next six months. According to city Human Resources Director Jane Gile, the position of interim solicitor carries an annual salary of $148,183.71 - six months of which comes in at $74,091.85. According to Gile, Rice is also eligible for employee benefits including health, dental, life and accidental death and dismemberment.

Incidentally, Gile confirmed that both Clark and Deputy City Solicitor Tom Arnold - who announced on July 6 his plans to retire effective Aug. 31 - will receive severance pay, but the exact amount for either has yet to be determined. That's because the payouts they receive are based on unused vacation, personal or eligible sick leave time they have at the time of their departure.

Additional praise for Rice rolled in late last week.

"Emily Rice brings with her an unsurpassed combination of experience, integrity, and a deep knowledge of New Hampshire law," said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "We are optimistic that with her leadership, the City Solicitor's office will return to prosecuting domestic violence as the serious crime that it is."

"I am thrilled to see a person of such integrity and impressive experience assume this position," said Alderman Barbara Shaw of Ward 9.

While city aldermen unanimously approved Rice's nomination during a phone poll last Monday, one board member, At Large member Joseph Kelly Levasseur, could not be reached by phone while another, Ward 12's Keith Hirschmann, initially abstained - then asked to be recorded as voting in favor of the nominee.

Last week, Levasseur said he didn't take part in the poll because he had questions he wanted to pose to Rice directly about City Charter violations, and felt the job should be posted.

Hirschmann said he abstained because he had never met Rice prior to the phone poll.

"Apparently, I'm one of the very few aldermen that demanded a face to face meeting with the nominee," said Hirschmann. "The phone poll on Emily Rice came at about 10 a.m. while I was at work. That meant I had not seen her resume, which had been emailed to my home that morning while I was out."

Hirschmann said when the city clerk's office contacted him he opted to pass on voting for two reasons - he had never met Rice, and hadn't reviewed her resume.

"That was at 10 a.m.," said Hirschmann. "By 3 p.m. I had read her resume at my home on my iPad, and at 4:45 p.m. I met Emily Rice face to face in City Hall. She learned that I am the chair of Human Resources, and I learned that she has an impeccable career in law with Tom Rath and Mayor Gatsas speaking highly of her. I will say that she is an excellent choice to reestablish the solicitor's office in the wake of the retirements and the seriousness of the lack of prosecutions as mentioned in the Union Leader."

Hirschmann said by abstaining from voting before he was ready, he was simply doing his "due diligence."

"How could my constituents respect me if I installed a new department head without ever laying eyes on her?" said Hirschmann. "I didn't let that happen, so after our positive meeting I advised the clerk that I could now be recorded in the affirmative for confirmation."

- - - - -

Finally, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will hold its only meeting of the month this Tuesday, at 7:30 p.m. in the Manchester Health Department conference room at the Carol Rines Center, 1528 Elm St. On the agenda - a letter from Bill Cashin, an alderman in Ward 10 from 1974 to 2002 and a co-chairman of Joyce Craig's 2015 mayoral campaign, asking the city's conduct board to investigate whether Gatsas violated the city charter by interfering with the operation of the police and school departments in their investigation of the 2015 rape of a female student in a hallway at West. In his letter, Cashin accuses Gatsas of violating the city charter on four counts, and asks that if the conduct board finds Gatsas guilty of the alleged charter violations, the matter be forwarded to the Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit for further investigation.

Staff reporter Paul Feely covers Manchester City Hall for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email: pfeely@unionleader.com.


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