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September 09. 2012 12:50AM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: Mayor's veto remains hard to override; still, you can't count out the parents


 

Mayor Ted Gatsas will be enjoying a power play advantage of sorts for the next two months.

Normally, to override a mayoral veto, a two-thirds majority — or 10 of the 14 aldermen — must vote to do so.

So how many votes are necessary with the board down a man because of the resignation of Russell Ouellette? Still 10, or a three-fourths majority. Call it a super-super majority.

That was the verdict last week from City Solicitor Tom Clark.

Last month, Clark prompted head scratching when he declared, in response to a query from Alderman Garth Corriveau, that 10 was still the required number for override because two-thirds of 13 rounds up to 10. Actually it rounds up to nine.

Clark said he would review the rule books and report back. In a letter to the aldermen, Clark pointed out that the city statutes and charter refer to “2/3, at least, of all the aldermen elected.”

The number of aldermen elected, Clark notes, “does not change in the event of a vacancy by resignation or otherwise. There were still 14 aldermen elected.”

This response did not sit well with a majority of the aldermen.

“To me, this just doesn't make any sense,” Alderman Joyce Craig said at the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting Tuesday. “The two-thirds should be based on the 13 people now serving our community.”

The good news for Craig and like-minded aldermen was that they had the authority to change the statute, and they voted, 8-4, to do so.

The bad news was that the mayor could veto the motion — and that he did.

Eight aldermen voted to override him, coming up two votes short.

Had Corriveau, the alderman who first raised the issue, been present, the outcome would have been closer. He was at the Democratic National Convention.

And had the aldermen followed the lead of the state Senate, there would have been enough votes for an override on Tuesday. For that august body, the rule for a veto override is two-thirds of those present and voting.

It's not just an academic debate. Recall the school budget was passed after 10 aldermen voted to override the mayor. And the aldermen only narrowly overrode the mayor on the vote to accept a federal COPS grant to hire five police officers, which Gatsas strongly opposes because it could leave the city on the hook to fund the officers when the money runs out. The grant, which was referred back to committee, is expected to come up for another vote.

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Of course, the main event at Tuesday's meeting was the Board of Mayor and Aldermen vs. the dozens of parents who filled the chamber to sound off about crowding and other problems in city schools.

On Monday, it will be the Board of School Committee's turn, when it holds its first meeting since the start of the school year.

Citizens for Manchester Schools, the recently formed advocacy group, plans to attend.

Once again, Mayor Gatsas, who chairs the school committee, will likely bear the brunt, as he did on Tuesday.

Jim O'Connell, president of the group, said it's not personal, although there is clearly no love lost between him and Gatsas, and he said it's not about pointing fingers.

“The aldermen point to the dysfunctionality of the school board, and the school board will throw up their hands and say we can't make do with what the aldermen gave us. Between those two caps, students and parents are left to fend for themselves,” he said, adding “we're not going away.”

In that spirit, Citizens for Manchester Schools plans to hold a rally Sept. 22 at Veterans Memorial Park, with speakers representing the schools and the business community, O'Connell said. And the group isn't just about giving grief, he added: There will also be face-painting and music.

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Amid the woes over school funding, several aldermen last week questioned why the city was donating $20,000 to charity.

At Tuesday's meeting, the aldermen voted to spend $20,000 from its contingency fund account to fix up the fence surrounding the Stark family gravesite at Stark Park on the city's North End.

The money was requested by the Friends of Stark Park, the nonprofit civic group formed to support the restoration and maintenance of the park, and it had the support of Mayor Gatsas.

The appropriation rankled Alderman Patrick Arnold at Tuesday's meeting, when the aldermen voted to approve it.

“I have given money to Stark Park,” he said. “But in this fiscal year, when we've seen more than 100 teacher layoffs, I cannot support in good conscience a $20,000 donation to a nonprofit.”

Arnold was joined by Aldermen Joe Kelly Levasseur, Barbara Shaw and Ron Ludwig in voting against the funding.

The Friends organization launched a campaign in the spring to raise $160,000 to restore the gravesite section of the park, which is built on the site of the family farm of Revolutionary War Gen. John Stark. They've raised $50,000 so far in private donations.

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Tom Donovan is leaving Manchester for what may be a more hospitable place: Botswana.

The former school board member and mayoral candidate will be doing a two-year stint with the Peace Corps.

Most recently, Donovan has been representing the city pro bono in its fight against the Legislature's newly enacted redistricting map.

Donovan, a Democrat, received a plaque from the mayor, a Republican, and a standing ovation from the aldermen on Tuesday.

“Tom is leaving the city to pursue a different kind of life of giving back, but I think he's already given back quite a bit to this city,” Gatsas said.

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


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