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January 07. 2013 11:43PM

Manchester airport chief's travel leads to accusations of game-playing

MANCHESTER - The tug-of-war between the mayor and aldermen continues over the travel of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport's director.

At Monday's meeting, Mayor Ted Gatsas made a motion for the aldermen to take a more active role in reviewing the travel requests. A majority of the aldermen initially voted against the motion, but Gatsas vetoed the vote, and his motion prevailed.

Gatsas' request came after the aldermen voted last month to overrule his decision to reject Airport Director Mark Brewer's upcoming trip to Maui.

Along with his motion, Gatsas also submitted a list of Brewer's pending trips through the end of the 2014 fiscal year. Brewer has 24 out-of-state trips scheduled, totaling 49 business days in the second half of the 2013 fiscal year and 59 business days in 2014. Brewer had traveled with the same frequency in 2012, which Gatsas has called "excessive."

In response to Gatsas' proposal at Monday's meeting - to essentially give the aldermen the power to approve the travel requests of department heads - Alderman Joyce Craig made a motion to "receive and file," or disregard, the idea.

The aldermen voted 8-5 to do so. Gatsas then vetoed the vote. An override vote of 9-5 fell one short of the number needed.

Before the vote, Gatsas warned aldermen: "If you receive and file, you leave it right back to me. If you want to continue to play games with this, I'll continue to say no (to the trips) and you can decide what you want to do," Gatsas said.

Craig in turn accused the mayor of playing games.

Alderman Dan O'Neil echoed the view that he saw no need for the aldermen to micro-manage travel decisions. "If the mayor has issues with the policy, then every time there's a travel request we may hear about it ... I plan to approve every trip on this matrix," he said, referring to the chart Gatsas provided outlining Brewer's planned trips.

Much of Brewer's travel is connected to his position as vice chairman of the American Association of Airport Executives. The group is covering the cost of about half of Brewer's coming trips, according to the table Gatsas provided.

In the past, Gatsas had backed Brewer's decision to take the position with the association, in part because it would boost the airport's profile. Brewer is the city's highest-paid employee, at nearly $216,000 annually.

The New Hampshire Sunday News recently reported that airlines at Manchester airport this fall offered 45 percent fewer departing flights than they did five years ago - three times the decline nationwide, according to figures from Airlines for America.

The vote sends Gatsas' motion to committee, where it can still be tabled or designated "received and filed."

In other action Monday, the board voted to authorize the Planning Department to spend up to $73,000 on a contract to demolish a building at 333-335 Central St. that burned down in August. The owner of the building, CGL Properties LLC, had skipped out on all of its taxes, more than $107,000 worth, from the time the building was purchased through the night of the fire.

As a result, the city asked for public bids to do the job and received three, ranging in cost from $29,200 to $73,820. The department will choose the lowest, qualified bidder.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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