City Hall: A half-cheer for beer; Alderman Levasseur drops lawsuit against Greazzo
WHO COULD HAVE a problem with a beer festival? Well, 14 aldermen and a mayor, that's who - at least if the organizers of the event want their fees waived at a time when the city is facing a $7.5 million budget shortfall.
A few months ago, Peter Telge, the proprietor of Milly's Tavern, approached city officials with the idea for the festival, which would showcase the products of the growing number of breweries in the region. Some of the proceeds from the event - to be held at Arms Park along the Merrimack River on July 26 - would benefit the New Horizons food pantry and shelter.
Telge requested that the fee for a fair permit ($300) and a noise permit ($200) be waived, seeing as how the festival would be good for the city's economy and benefit the food pantry.
"I am hoping for this to become an annual event and raise some money for New Horizons and bring a lot of people to Manchester in the summer time," Telge wrote in a letter to the aldermen.
The development director at New Horizons also championed the event, going so far as to submit its tax ID number as a nonprofit to support the claim for fee waivers. (Nonprofits usually enjoy exemptions from the fees, but not always.)
But as Mayor Ted Gatsas pointed out at Tuesday's aldermen's meeting, New Horizons can in no way be considered the organizer of the event; it was simply a beneficiary should the festival make a profit. Gatsas was flat against waiving fees for an event that was sure to take in a good amount of beer money.
"I would think, here we are in a city talking about raising the tax cap, and we're waiving fees? That just doesn't make sense to me," he said.
But Alderman Pat Long, whose nickname could be Mr. Downtown, said the beer festival was just the kind of event the city should take steps to promote. "The (event) is going to bring in people. This is the first brew fest event; other cities are looking for this, and it has the potential of growing," he said. "Our put-in is not financial; it's waiving a $500 fee."
The board initially voted to approve the waivers, but Gatsas issued a rare veto, and there weren't enough votes to override it.
Then Alderman William Shea, ever the peacemaker, proposed waiving only the larger of the fees, the $300 fair permit. And this was passed without a veto. Cheers to that.
THE DANGER of waiving fees, as Shea has pointed out more than once, is that it sets a precedent. Indeed, fee waiver requests seem to be in season these days. On Monday, the aldermen's administration committee considered waiver requests from the organizers of two farmers markets.
One came from the Manchester Farmers Market, the one that's held on Concord Street next to Victory Park on Thursdays from June to October. The other came from the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, which wants fees waived for farm stands it wants to set up at four locations on four separate days over the summer months. The produce at the stands would be grown by refugees who are learning farming and marketing through the group's Fresh Start program.
The committee denied the waiver for the Concord Street market on the grounds that it was run by established, professional farmers. But it granted the waiver for the refugees, whom the members of the committee agreed could use a leg up.
Remember the lawsuit Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur filed against Phil Greazzo, in which he accused the former alderman of defamation for calling him a liar and other mean things? Levasseur has dropped it.
But if you think this means the two have buried the hatchet, think again.
Levasseur says he dropped the suit after he was able to get the insurance agent for the Manchester Dog Park Association to attest in an affidavit that its coverage had lapsed for a month last fall.
Levasseur's allegation of a lapse is what first prompted Greazzo, the founder of the dog park, to publicly assail Levasseur's credibility and to eventually try to get him brought before the Conduct Board.
Levasseur said he dropped the suit because he felt he had set the record straight about who was being truthful - and because Greazzo was attempting to drag the New Hampshire Union Leader into the case by accusing it of publishing disparaging comments Greazzo never intended to make public.
"Once it became apparent that (Greazzo) was not going to apologize after calling me a liar for four months, it didn't seem worth going to court. My point was proven. The Aspen Insurance affidavit was enough of a remedy for me," he said.
Indeed, Greazzo has no intention of issuing an apology.
"His request to dismiss his own case shows it was frivolous and further illustrates his pattern of behavior," Greazzo said in a statement, referring to Levasseur. "He stalled at every turn, missed every deadline to provide the required disclosures and evidence to prove his case (like all other recent instances) and like all other cases claims victory despite facts to the contrary."
WHAT"S THAT they say about falling off a horse? Ever since the Manchester Water Works Commission moved to enact new restrictions on horseback riding on land adjacent at the Lake Massabesic reservoir, area equestrians have turned out to protest at City Hall and elsewhere. And even though the commission recently approved the restrictions, the horse riders have continued to urge the aldermen and the mayor to do what they can to reverse the decision.
At Tuesday's meeting, the majority of the speakers during the public comment period came from the pro-riding contingent. And it seems they finally have the ear of some of the aldermen, if not Mayor Gatsas, who has deferred to the judgment of Water Works Director David Paris on the matter.
Alderman Barbara Shaw said the equestrians raised legitimate points in questioning the science behind Paris' claims that horse waste could contaminate the reservoir. "I want to protect the water supply as much as anyone, but if you look at the big picture, the equestrian portion seems very insignificant compared to other variables that affect our water supply," she said.
Alderman Dan O'Neil, the chairman of the board, said, "I think this is bigger than horses. It involves dogs, bicycles, motorized equipment. A lot of these people that spoke tonight are customers of the Water Works, and they're taxpayers in the city of Manchester."
No, it doesn't look like this issue will be riding into the sunset anytime soon.
Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.