March 02. 2013 10:53PM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: Arnold's remarks could turn Gatsas from tan to red

New Hampshire Union Leader

Say what you will about Ward 12 Alderman and mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold, he's got a way with words, particularly the provocative kind. He slammed Mayor Ted Gatsas for his role in the city software contract, calling it a "boondoggle." And last week, Arnold was out with some fresh material, calling the mayor's budget "a masterpiece of political theater."

Gatsas' budget, which the mayor unveiled last month before jumping on a plane to Aruba for vacation, is 2.16 percent larger than last year's - but just within the tax cap. About $138 million is allocated for city departments, while $155.7 million would go to the school district.

In a news release issued Wednesday, Arnold faulted the mayor for proposing to raise taxes while cutting city services.

"Mayor Gatsas relies on smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that his budget guarantees personnel and service reductions," Arnold writes.

He goes on to suggest the mayor doesn't intend to serve out his term, but rather seek another office, presumably governor. "This proposal is nothing but a budgetary fiction, designed to help position the mayor to run for higher office, while leaving Manchester taxpayers holding the bag."

Arnold said his expectation that the mayor would seek higher office was based on Gatsas' own past comments and media reports.

"You can tell it's an election year," he said. "I think the budget is crafted to appear as though everything is just fine, but if you ask most people in the city, they'll say there's significant room for improvement."

While Arnold did not offer a lot of specifics in his critique of the budget, he did single out the fact that it does not fund severance lines on the city side, which has proved to be a major drag on this year's budget due to a large number of retirements. Gatsas is expecting department heads to adjust their budgets accordingly in order to handle severance costs.

Hopefully, Gatsas was lying on a beach far from any Internet connection so as not to be perturbed by Arnold's harsh words, which he shared with several media outlets. In any case, Gatsas will almost certainly have Arnold beat in the tan department, especially when the mayor makes his appearance at Tuesday's full board meeting, fresh from Aruba.

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As it turns out, Arnold may have company in taking on Mayor Gatsas. Fellow young Democrat and Alderman Garth Corriveau, Ward 6, wants voters to know he definitely has not ruled out a run for mayor.

Corriveau posted a video on his Facebook page last week in which said he would make a decision about running in the coming weeks, while thanking his supporters for their patience.

As for facing off against Arnold in a primary, Corriveau said they have been discussing their political plans since last fall. "I understand he's going to do what he needs to do," Corriveau said. "My decision-making is going to be about what's best for me, my professional life and, of course, how to best serve the city," he said.

Still, Corriveau was quick to offer a distinction between himself, Arnold and the mayor. Corriveau opposed the Hackett Hill land deal, whereby a developer proposed to build a fire station in exchange for dozens of surrounding parcels of city-owned land. The deal fell apart, and the city is now building the station on its own dime.

"I was one of only two (aldermen) who voted against it every step of the way. It was apparent to me from Day 1 that it would result in a legal dispute, but nobody wanted to listen to me," he said.

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Last month, the school board's Coordination Committee approved a plan to shorten the school year from 180 to 175 days. This would be accomplished by packing more instruction time into the school day, primarily by cutting the length of the high school lunch period - currently about 50 minutes - in half.

At the time, Ben Dick, the president of the teachers union, warned the committee that he believed the plan violated its contract by unilaterally changing "work conditions." He said such matters are to be addressed through contract negotiations, which are now getting under way.

The full board is expected to vote on the plan at its meeting later this month, and last week Dick put its members on notice.

If school board decisions "could be implemented unilaterally, regardless of the effect or impact on employee's conditions of employment, then negotiations are a waste of good time and the safeguards of the statute are made a mockery of," Dick wrote in a letter to the school board that cited RSA 273-A, which governs collective bargaining agreements.

If the board approves the policy, Dick continued, the "Manchester Education Association will seek recourse through any and all legal avenues."

Gatsas and other supporters of the plan have noted that shortening the lunch break at the high schools would not alter the start and stop times of the school day, and it would bring them in line with the length of lunch periods at the elementary and middle schools.

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With all the drama around the mayor's race, it's easy to forget that nearly 30 seats on the school and aldermanic boards are potentially in play this coming November.

At least one formidable candidate has stepped forward to express interest in running for the Ward 10 alderman's seat: Bill Barry, the former longtime officer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department who ran for sheriff last November. He lost to the incumbent, but received a respectable 86,000 votes.

Barry, a Democrat who had the endorsement of law enforcement and teacher unions, would face incumbent Phil Greazzo, the most fiscally conservative member of the board.

"It's nothing against Phil Greazzo," Barry said. "It's something I've always wanted to do. I've lived in Manchester my whole life. It's time to give back."

Greazzo said he was still weighing whether he will run again, as he always does before filing his papers. "Bill seems like a nice enough guy," he said. "I give him credit (for running), but I know nothing at all about his policies."

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Anyone want to buy a horse?

Last August, the Manchester Police Department's Mounted Unit took on a new recruit, Jerry, a 6-year-old black gelding that it bought for $4,000.

Jerry passed the 30-day trial period, but has since proved to have an ornery streak.

"Although he had demonstrated progress throughout his training, culminating in him participating in patrol operations in the downtown area, he unexpectedly resisted accepting a rider," Capt. Richard Reilly, with the department's Community Policing Division, wrote in a letter to the aldermen.

The department intends to "purchase a new mount in the immediate future with the donated funds that remain in the account in combination with the proceeds generated by the sale of Jerry," according to the letter.

When it meets on Tuesday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to give its yea or - ahem - neigh.

Ted Siefer may be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @tbsreporter.