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Manchester police looking at a possible shift in Maras

June 21. 2014 7:50PM

AFTER FINALLY wrapping up a budget for the new fiscal year the week before, the aldermen had a relatively quiet week, devoted largely to tying up some of the budget's loose ends. The big news came from somewhere other than the City Hall chambers: Police Chief David Mara was in the running to head the police department in Somerville, Mass.

Mara is well-liked by Mayor Ted Gatsas and, it's safe to say, a majority of the aldermen. Mara "has been an outstanding chief" was the way Gatsas put it when asked about the possibility of him getting hired away.

Not everyone, however, was exactly tearing up at the prospect of Mara leaving for Somerville, a particularly liberal burg in Greater Boston.

Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann, for one, told his colleagues that they should waste no time in preparing to search for a new police chief.

"Retirements happen, but when it's in the press, it's our job to be ready," he wrote in an email to the board. "I am firm on one requirement - that the next chief is a resident of Manchester."

This was a dig at Mara's Achilles' heel: the fact that he's made his home in Bedford, far away from the mean streets of Manchester.

Later in the week came the news that Mara's son would be among the 14 new Manchester police officers being sworn in next month.

It may come as no surprise that Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur has lots of questions about the hiring, particularly about whether Mara's son meets the qualifications for the job.

Mara the younger appears to have only recently begun work as a part-time officer in Hampton.

The issue could reignite the long-running feud between Levasseur and the police. The conflict had only recently subsided after the men in blue called for his ouster earlier this year following a state attorney general report that concluded the alderman had made unfounded allegations of police intimidation.

Levasseur had this to say about Mara's son joining the force: "I trust that all precautions and rules have been followed by those responsible for hiring anyone in this city: if I find out otherwise, then I will make my voice heard."

Maybe it was because it came together so late, but there was one notable omission from the budget: No school district projects were included in the Community Improvement Program list, a grab bag of allocations for nonprofits, road repairs and other special projects.

You may recall that the school board formulated a pretty big wish list of projects, chief among them making proper classrooms out of the oversized cubicles at the Beech Street and Webster elementary schools and adding such amenities to the Manchester School of Technology (MST) as a cafeteria and a library.

(The community improvement budget does include one item for the schools: a nearly $1 million bond for new school buses, to be paid for out of the district budget.)

The board's Buildings and Sites Committee met on Tuesday to discuss the improvement list, not for the fiscal year beginning July 1, however, but for the next budget year.

The district hasn't received much from the aldermen in recent years for capital-intensive projects, so perhaps it's not surprising that the figure board members came up with Tuesday is a large one: $14 million.

Committee Chairman John Avard said he wasn't disappointed in the new Community Improvement Program budget. But he said he wanted to make sure the public, the mayor and the aldermen are aware of the district's needs as soon as possible. "I think it's very important that there's transparency about what we need in this district to move forward and fulfil the commitments we made with MST. We knew when the program started that the facilities were not going to be sufficient," he said.

Economists told us this month that the U.S. economy marked a milestone that was a long time coming: The 8.7 million jobs lost since the economy tanked in 2008 had finally been regained. It appears the local economy is closely following the national trend, at least based on what is widely regarded as its best barometer: auto registrations.

Finance Director Bill Sanders told the aldermen's Committee on Accounts on Monday that revenue from auto registrations this year was on track to hit $16 million - a level not seen since before the recession.

Sanders said the year-over-year rise in auto registrations over the past few years may have been driven by pent-up demand.

"If people are delaying (buying a car), you've got to pay the piper eventually," he said.

Alderman-At-Large Dan O'Neil said he could relate. "I went from an eight-cylinder pickup truck to a four-cylinder midsize," he said.

Maybe it's time for an upgrade.

Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.

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