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Paul Feely's City Hall: Mayor's survey suggests Manchester is going in the right direction

By PAUL FEELY
September 09. 2017 9:07PM
TED GATSAS 

LAST WEEK, Mayor Ted Gatsas released the first set of survey results from the 2017 Manchester Mayor's Survey. The mayor's office has received more than 2,500 responses so far, "and more continue to come in," according to an email.

When asked if the city was on the right or wrong track, a majority of the respondents - 73 percent - believe the city is headed in the correct direction.

When asked about the quality of life in Manchester on a scale of 1 to 10 - with 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest - more than 50 percent of respondents said either 7 or 8.

When asked what are the top three issues that are most important to them, the top five responses were:

Property taxes (53 percent of respondents); the opioid epidemic (38 percent); education (35 percent); public safety (35 percent); and roads and transportation (34 percent).

There was also this question about Keno:

"Recently the New Hampshire State Legislature passed KENO, a game of chance, as a source of funding for all-day kindergarten programs in the state. In order for KENO to be played at a business in the City of Manchester it must first be placed on a ballot and approved by a majority vote of the local community. Do you support bringing KENO games to the City of Manchester?

The results were that 55.4 percent responded 'yes,' 31.8 percent responded 'no' and 12.8 percent were 'unsure.'

Last month, aldermen voted in favor of placing a question on the ballot in November asking about allowing electronic bingo-like games at bars and restaurants.

The mayor's office expects to release more survey results in the coming weeks.

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During last week's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Alderman Tony Sapienza of Ward 5 abstained from voting on a tentative agreement between Manchester Water Works and United Steelworkers 8938 "as per the charter," because his son is a Water Works employee and would benefit from the contract being approved.

That move sparked a rant later in the meeting by Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig, who criticized "people" in the city for using charter conflict of interest violations for political gains.

According to Manchester's City Charter, Section 9.03e, "(e)Conflict of interest. No city official shall participate in the decision-making process of any matter in which the official or a member of the official's immediate family has a direct personal or financial interest. Any official who believes such an interest exists shall disclose such interest and shall not participate in the matter further."

Last week Ludwig focused on the sentences that follow this section, which state:

"In the event any other official believes an official has a conflict, such conflict shall be disclosed to the city clerk who shall make a record of it. If the official does not believe such a conflict exists, the board of mayor and aldermen, or school committee if the official is a member of the school committee, shall make a determination and if it finds a conflict exists, the official shall not participate in the matter further, or the appropriate board may refer the matter to the Conduct Board."

Ludwig then blamed members of the 2015 Board of Mayor and Aldermen for not telling him if he had a conflict of interest when voting to approve a new contract with city teachers. His wife worked for the school district at the time.

"This board is not doing its job," said Ludwig. "Every person around here isn't doing their job. When Alderman (Jim) Roy called me out two years ago, this board should have taken a vote that night. It did not take a vote that night."

Ludwig said if the board voted to declare he had a conflict of interest, he would not have voted on the contract.

"There are people running for office in the next two months who I won't vote for because they have someone that works for the city and they won't be able to vote for a contract," said Ludwig.

Ludwig then went after people who keep bringing up the matter of votes by officials with conflicts of interest.

"This is wrong," said Ludwig. "This particular issue has continued to be used by particular groups as fodder in an election. People are putting out literature. People are printing it in the paper, and making it sound like the people who are voting should be going to jail.

"The people that are deciding they want to make it an issue are doing it for political reasons," continued Ludwig. "This is, for lack of a better term, stupid, and the people and politicians that are using this are dead wrong."

Ludwig is not seeking reelection to the Ward 2 seat on the board this November.

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Almost overlooked in a flurry of new business toward the end of last week's meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen was a vote to authorize the use of $10,000 to bring a new literacy initiative to city high schools.

According to Wendy Perron, director of English Learner (EL) Instruction for the Manchester School District, over the last two academic years high school EL faculty have worked to align EL courses with the district's academic standards, while identifying strengths and weaknesses.

One weakness Perron said staff identified is the district's approach to literacy instruction for students with limited formal education, or those with beginning levels of English literacy.

Perron said she has identified a program, RIGOR, that breaks down literacy instruction into a five-step process. Kits for the program cost $9,000 each and include 288 books, teachers' guides, student assessment books, interactive e-books and vocabulary cards. The EL department has federal Title III funds available to purchase two kits.

Last week, aldermen approved using $10,000 in surplus funds left over from the summer literacy program to buy a third kit, allowing the district to prepare to institute the RIGOR program in three city high schools.

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City aldermen won't meet again until Oct. 3, but when they do before them will be a request from Police Chief Nick Willard for additional funds to cover severance payouts to four members of his department retiring this month.

According to figures provided by Willard, officer Jaime Branch is due a severance payout of $53,307.48, detective Dave Dupont will receive $49,924.37, officer Charles Anderson will receive $52,942.52, and Lt. Stephen Reardon is due $68,833.59.

That's a total of $225,007.69. Willard is hoping aldermen will authorize the additional funding to cover the payouts "so that operations will not be curtailed," according to a memo sent to board members.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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