Ted Siefer's City Hall: Mayor says aldermanic meeting not arena for school issue
Mayor Ted Gatsas took his share of knocks at Tuesday's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. There were the parents who called him a "bully" and accused him of "ruining the schools." Later, Alderman Joyce Craig insisted that he tell the board what his plan was for keeping Candia and Hooksett from pulling their kids - and their tuition money - from the district.
The unflappable mayor did not regard the aldermanic board as the appropriate forum to respond to his critics. He said these were matters for the school board, which he chairs, to concern itself with - and that it likely would when the Coordination Committee meets on Monday.
For all the consternation, the mayor is focusing on the positive, even after the Hooksett School Board voted to officially declare Manchester in breach of its contract over crowded high school classrooms. He said the board's action only reflected one point of view among families in the town.
"I've received a lot of calls from parents who want to keep their kids in the district. I don't think (the board) reflects the will of the parents or a majority of the students," he said, adding, "I think the door should always be open and we should find a way to work together."
Still, the school board is taking the moves by Hooksett - and similar threats from Candia - seriously. A couple of weeks ago, in a non-public meeting, the board consulted with the district's attorney to consider its own next moves regarding the contract with the sending towns.
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It was only a couple of weeks ago that the aldermen voted to give the mayor temporary authority over the city's economic development office, in the wake of the rather abrupt departure of its chief, Jay Minkarah. Since then, judging by the report Mayor Gatsas gave the aldermen last week, he has been busy.
He's met with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, transferred the management of antenna leases and revolving loan funds to the city finance office, and begun preparing a a report comparing how other cities in the state have handled economic development.
"I think we need an interim plan, if that's the next step - and we need an economic development director," said Alderman Dan O'Neil, the board's chairman.
The mayor insisted he wasn't making any unilateral moves.
"Things have been moving well, and hopefully we'll have some resolution about going forward. I'm looking forward to doing this with the board," Gatsas said at Tuesday's meeting.
He also noted that "other communities I've been talking to throughout the state have gone toward different models. Developers want to make sure they have the ability to have someone to advocate for them when they move through the process."
For the record, the mayor told me he doesn't see this as a job he would take on.
Alderman Patrick Arnold insisted that the city needs more than just someone to guide developers through the permitting process. "I believe we need someone fulltime that lives, sleeps, eats and breathes how to grow jobs in this city. I believe it is the mayor's job to be the chief cheerleader, but the mayor has to deal with schools and other issues," he said.
It's too bad the aldermen can't ask Minkarah about his perspective. He left his job with 10 days' notice and the city didn't have time to conduct an exit interview.
Such a process is standard protocol, Human Resources Director Jane Gile told the aldermen, but one was not conducted with Minkarah.
Minkarah is now the CEO and president of DevelopSpringfield in Massachusetts, according to his newly updated LinkedIn profile. It's a nonprofit, backed by businesses and state agencies, that seeks to "create conditions that encourage private development, with a bricks-and-mortar focus" to meet "Springfield's unique and diverse redevelopment needs," according to its website.
Minkarah didn't offer any insights to the New Hampshire Union Leader either. He didn't return phone calls left at his new office.
The aldermen did take one action on Tuesday concerning the city's economic development office. They voted to have the city auditor review the department's books.
"I don't think there's anything wrong," said Alderman Pat Long, who proposed the motion. "I believe we should have an audit to have a clean break."
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The seemingly never-ending story of the city's software contract took another twist last week.
Several weeks ago, the aldermen were so fed up with the delays in "going live" with the Innoprise system, more than two years after the contract was signed, that they hired the accounting firm BerryDunn to come with a point-by-point management plan.
The purpose of the $1.5 million contract is to overhaul and streamline the computer system used throughout city departments. It would handle everything from payroll to a resident-complaint program, which a number of cities have implemented in recent years.
In a letter sent to the mayor a couple of weeks ago, the vice president of Harris Enterprise Resource Planning, the company that took over Innoprise shortly after the deal with the city, essentially said the delays are the city's fault. The letter notes that it was the city that requested the delays and that they were caused "through no fault on our part." He also writes that the company would be raising its hourly rate because of the delays, as per the contract.
City Information Systems Director Jennie Angell, who has been in the hot seat more than once about the software contract, told the aldermen Tuesday that the vendor could only charge more if all the hours allotted under the contract were used up - and the company is nowhere close to that point. "There are no bills coming," Angell said.
Mayor Gatsas, for his part, said he would not respond to the letter until BerryDunn completes its management report, which is expected later this month.
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Ted Siefer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @tbsreporter.