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June 20. 2013 10:34PM

Manchester commission suggests Increasing stipends, mayor's pay

MANCHESTER — The Charter Commission has approved a final list of nine proposed changes to the city’s basic governing document that will go on the ballot in the fall.

The commission met on Wednesday for its final meeting to approve the document, after state officials approved the preliminary charter amendment it submitted in April.

The most significant changes are to raise the mayor’s salary to $100,000 a year and to eliminate the health and dental coverage for the aldermen and school board members, while raising their stipends to $9,000 and $7,000, respectively.

The commissioners on Wednesday did make minor changes to the final document, largely in response to concerns raised by three members of the panel who felt the process was mired by inattention to detail and protocol.

These positions were most forcefully championed by Commissioner Rich Girard, who sent letters to the offices of the state attorney general and secretary of state requesting the three commissioners be removed as signatories to the changes.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Girard announced his resignation from the commission.

“Nothing the commission will or can do will change that the preliminary report was deemed adopted on a failed motion for unanimity, that preliminary report contained items that were not only not approved by the commission, but never discussed by it, and that the Letter of Attestation falsely affirmed the preliminary reports content,” Girard wrote in a letter to commission Chairman Jerome Duval.

The commission’s legal counsel, Richard Lehmann, said on Wednesday that he was confident its work complied with all relevant state laws. “At the end of the day, there’s a process we went through to get to this point, and the work product was approved by the state,” he said. “Any (minor) changes now will not affect the legality under state law.”

One of Girard’s primary concerns was that the motion concerning the compensation for school and board members did not mention the elimination of benefits. The motion, which was made by Commissioner Skip Ashooh at the April 10 meeting, came at the end of a lengthy debate about the appropriate size of the stipend for the aldermen and school board members, in light of cutting the benefits. The aldermen currently get $5,000 and the school board gets $2,000.

However, it was clear that the commissioners had intended to eliminate the benefits as part of the proposal, and the summary that was signed by all the commissioners proposed eliminating “their eligibility to receive the benefits allotted to full time employees.” At Lehmann’s recommendation, the six commissioners who attended the meeting Wednesday voted unanimously to affirm this language as the intent of the motion. “The only reason I want to do this is if this passes, we don’t want somebody saying what we did here is different than what we said,” Commissioner Will Infantine said. In response to another concern raised by Infantine, the commission voted to alter the language of a proposal requiring candidates to reside in the city for at least one year to apply only to aldermanic and school board races, not all elected offices. (The requirement already exists for the mayor.)

The slate of changes are to be presented to the aldermen at their next meeting July 2. The aldermen don’t have the authority to alter the changes.

Proposed changes

The following nine proposed charter changes can only be approved or rejected in their entirety:

• Set the aldermanic stipend at $9,000 and the school board stipend at $7,000 and eliminate their eligibility to receive benefits allotted to full time employees.

• Raise the mayor’s salary from $68,000 to $100,000.

• Make the Commissioner of Welfare position an appointed department head position rather than elected.

• Remove the provision that allows the budget approval process to extend out to June 30; the budget must be completed by the second Tuesday in June.

• Create conflict of interest procedures for members of boards, commissions and authorities.

• Increase the number of election postings from three to eight, 30 days before both a primary and general municipal election.

• Institute fines of $100 for the first day and $10 for each additional day if financial disclosure reports are not filed.

• To file as a candidate or hold elective office (for the boards of aldermen and school committee), a person must be a resident of the city for at least one year.

• Increase the number of terms that an appointed board or commission member can serve from two three-year terms to four three-year terms.tsiefer@unionleader.com


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