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January 28. 2012 3:26PM

Levasseur: Don't let mayor negotiate police contract


 

When Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur won the November city election, people familiar with the attorney and restaurant owner knew he would make the Board of Aldermen meetings a little more interesting. Less than a month into his term, Levasseur has followed through.

Forget what he's says on his cable access TV show, or that he and the mayor raised their voices at each other during the Jan. 17 meeting. Levasseur really made things interesting last week when he asked his fellow board members to remove Mayor Ted Gatsas as their assigned negotiator with city unions.

“After his comments in the newspaper that he thinks we are all playing games with the recent police contract and the fact that the negotiations seem to be centered on how his budget will come out, and the fact that I do not believe he has the sole capability to think outside the box when it comes to negotiating with unions that have had years of practice doing this, I would like to hire someone who negotiates for a living,” Levasseur wrote in an email to the board.

It wasn't just the mayor's comments criticizing members who preferred to lay over the police contract instead of suspending the rules to vote on it immediately, it was the mayor's budget math. How can the city promise to hire police with the savings the concessions bring? Levasseur asked. In an interview Wednesday, he wondered whether that money could be spent elsewhere, for something such as reducing taxes, or whether the city should scrap the entire merit-pay structure and negotiate salaries from scratch.

“I believe we need a professional to perform this extremely important task. Someone who is not worried about being reelected or possibly running for another office. Someone who does not come with the political baggage that any politician comes with,” he wrote. “I have been left to believe that it has become too personal with the mayor, and that in the interest of both the city employees and the taxpayers, the mayor needs to be replaced with someone who is above all political reproach or at least someone who believes that an alderman, in each one of his/her own capacity has the right to respectfully disagree with the Mayor without it being called a ‘game.'”

On Thursday, Gatsas seemed unfazed by the letter.

“I think we're doing fine. I'm here to work for the board and the taxpayers,” he said, adding that two contracts and three tentative agreements have been reached. “We're a lot further along than we anticipated and a lot further along than we were last year.”

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MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of Manchester School District Treasurer Freda Hawkinson's delayed payment to the IRS that resulted in a $169,000 penalty, but little has been said about that fine being overturned. A letter went out to school board members on Jan. 13 announcing that the city won its appeal and that a check for $171,246 was sent to the city. That includes the penalty the district paid, plus interest.

The penalty was the result of Hawkinson ordering the payment but not releasing the funds. The penalty raised questions about not only the roll of the treasurer but also why the Board of School Committee had failed for so many years to oversee the position under its jurisdiction.

Hawkinson did tell the board that after the payment error, backup systems were put in place to ensure it didn't happen again.

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AN INVITATION WENT out last week to all city employees to a testimonial dinner in honor of former Alderman at-Large Mike Lopez. The dinner will be held on Friday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m., at the American Legion Sweeney Post. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at Sweeney Post, Grand Slam Pizza on South Mammoth Road and Morin's Sunoco on Valley Street.

The invitation was sent out by fellow West Side resident Alderman Russ Ouellette. For those who called asking whether such correspondence is allowed under the city's communication policies, the answer is yes. According to City Clerk Matt Normand, there is no specific email policy for aldermen, and had a city employee sent the message, that would have been OK, too. City employees are free to send emails to other employees as long as the messages pertain to city business. Honoring someone who gave years of service to Manchester certainly qualifies, Normand said.

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ANOTHER QUESTION raised by a curious City Hall column reader was whether Alderman at-Large Dan O'Neil had a conflict of interest when he voted to move $36,000 from the contingency fund to the City Solicitor's Office budget to continue funding its safety coordinator position. The current safety coordinator is Kevin O'Neil, Alderman O'Neil's cousin.

According to City Solicitor Tom Clark and the city charter, conflicts are only posed when the decision benefits that official or a member of his immediate family. Brother, spouse or daughter is a conflict. Cousin is not.

O'Neil said he was aware of the rules before he voted and that, “I didn't even hesitate because I know it's not an issue.”

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MAYOR GATSAS wants to be clear that he does not support increasing the distance from schools that students must walk. At the Jan. 21 school board meeting, cutting routes or making students walk farther were discussed, but they are not options Gatsas is pursuing to cut costs. He did ask why transportation costs came in 10 percent higher than the Manchester Transportation Administration had estimated.

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AFTER HAVING A TOUGH year going toe-to-toe with Gatsas over refugee policy, Michael McGandy has stepped down from his position as site director at the International Institute of New Hampshire. His last day was Jan. 15, which he announced in an email to the Manchester Health Department. He is being replaced by an interim, Susan Curry, who has worked with Manchester refugees for two years.

The city has also learned that 61 refugees were resettled in Manchester from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2011, including 45 adults and 16 children. All of the new arrivals were from Bhutan.

Read Beth LaMontagne Hall's coverage of Manchester City Hall in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email her at bhall@unionleader.com.


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