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March 17. 2013 12:58AM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: School board to review 600-page report on McGorry


 
About the only thing the public knows about the resignation of former Manchester High School West High Principal MaryEllen McGorry is that it's costing taxpayers a lot of money. We learned last week that district officials expect to spend $350,000 this school year on legal matters, blowing a $200,000 hole in the budget. A big chunk of this money - more than $100,000 - has gone to the firm that investigated and compiled a nearly 600-page report on McGorry.

Not even the school board had been privy to the fruits of all this labor - until now. The school board on Monday voted to have district officials make available to its members a summary of the findings of the investigation and one copy of that hefty report, with all names redacted.

James O'Shaughnessy, one of the district's attorneys, made the proposition in response to a request from Ward 9 school board member Art Beaudry.

Such a limited exposure, O'Shaughnessy wrote in a letter to the board, was necessary because releasing names "deteriorates the confidential nature of the report and, more importantly, discourages employee participation in investigations for fear of reprisal."

Board members would still be barred, under strict confidentiality rules, from sharing the information with the public.

"We paid enough money for this. We should see what's in it," said Beaudry, who is one of the more outspoken members of the board, to put it delicately.

Beaudry insisted he wasn't about to share any information outside of the school board. "The attorneys have already told us that if any information gets out, they'll file suit against that individual member for defamation. I'm sure not going to open myself up to litigation," he said.

Just how radioactive is the issue? The board on Monday voted by the narrowest of margins, 8-6, to have the redacted report produced.

"I personally won't be looking at the report," Ward 8 board member Erika Connors said.

Connors was joined by board members Ted Rokas, Roy Shoults, Donna Soucy, Kathy Staub and Dave Gelinas in voting no.

Joining Beaudry in voting yes were board members John Avard, Sarah Ambrogi, Jason Cooper, Roger Beauchamp, Dave Wihby, Debra Gagnon Langton and Christopher Stewart.

Mayor Ted Gatsas abstained.




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Should the mayor get a raise? Should school board members and aldermen really be getting city-provided health and dental insurance? Thanks to the Charter Commission, these are no longer academic questions.

Last week, the commission voted to recommended that the mayor's pay be raised a whopping 59 percent, from $68,000, where it's stood since 1997, to $108,000. And on Wednesday, the panel is expected to consider eliminating health benefits for the members of the school and aldermanic boards, instead bumping their yearly $4,000 stipend to between $10,000 and $15,000. (While they're at it, the commissioners are also talking about ending the pay disparity between the boards. The school board members make $2,000.)

So how do the aldermen feel about these questions? After all, they're the ones authorized under the current charter to raise the mayor's salary.

"I don't feel for one second Teddy Gatsas needs a raise. As far as whether he deserves one, that's a different issue," said at-large Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur, with characteristic tact.

Levasseur was alluding to the fact that the mayor is widely reputed to be a very wealthy man.

Levasseur allowed that if it were another mayor, say a young family man, he might think differently (he gave the example of Alderman and would-be mayor Patrick Arnold).

Levasseur said he had considered proposing a motion at the coming meeting Tuesday to raise the mayor's salary - by one dollar. "I don't mind saying it, I'm a cheap S.O.B. I don't like spending money," he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig thinks the Charter Commission is right to raise the mayor's salary - and she said it shouldn't matter who holds the office. "I think in looking at the salaries in comparable towns, our mayor should probably have a raise," she said.

However, Levasseur has some unlikely company in Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau.

"I was dismayed that the commission's first significant vote was on such a minor issue. I have never once heard of any potential candidate for mayor refusing to run due to the salary," he said.

And one could say Corriveau is putting his money where his mouth is. The young, newly engaged Democrat is seriously considering a run for mayor. (The similarly situated Arnold didn't return a couple of messages for his take on the issue.)

What about the health benefits for the school board and aldermen? Corriveau said this might be a more worthy topic for the commission to concern itself with.

"Whether they should be offered benefits, as opposed to a higher salary, I suppose that would be an interesting debate. I have no idea if that would help or hurt the quality of candidates," he said.

Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy has no doubts the Charter Commission is exactly the forum for dealing with both the mayor's salary - which he described as "woefully low" - and the health benefits for school board and aldermen. The health benefits have been a third-rail issue at City Hall for some time now.

It's a fair question: Why should part-time elected officials enjoy benefits typically only extended to full-time employees and that only a portion of the officials take advantage of? On each of the boards, 10 of the 14 members are currently taking the city's health or dental coverage or both.

Roy recalled the last time he broached the subject with his colleagues. "They were ready to lynch me in the back room," he said.


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

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