Paul Feely's City Hall: Firefighters disappointed after proposal for raise gets nixed
Officials with both city firefighter unions say they are "very disappointed" by the lack of support their members received last week from aldermen and Mayor Ted Gatsas during a vote on a fact finder's report recommending two-year pay increases of 3 percent per year for Manchester firefighters and supervisors.
Last Tuesday, aldermen voted to approved the report, 7-6, with Kevin Cavanaugh, Ron Ludwig, Chris Herbert, Dan O'Neil, Tom Katsiantonis, Bill Barry and Normand Gamache voting in favor. Opposed were Keith Hirschmann, Pat Long, Tony Sapienza, Joseph Kelly Levasseur, Bill Shea and Barbara Shaw.
Gatsas blocked the vote with a veto, saying the two-year price tag of the recommendations made in the report - totaling more than $4 million - would lead to future job losses.
"The only solution should this contract be adopted, to meet the requirements of the tax cap, will be layoffs," Gatsas said last week. "As your mayor I am not willing to put the city, our department heads, yourself or your families through that. It's irresponsible."
"Saying that you support the firefighters and are 'in debt to our service' moments before you veto an agreement to secure a contract is insincere and disingenuous at best," said Jeff Duval, president of the Manchester Professional Fire Fighters Association and Jim Michael, president of the Manchester Association of Fire Supervisors, in a joint statement.
An attempt by aldermen to override the veto failed to generate the necessary 10 votes.
Prior to the vote Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan made an impassioned plea to the aldermen to endorse the plan, saying talks between the city and the unions broke down after aldermen approved a contract with police unions containing similar 3 percent raises.
"You guys made a decision to give one union something different than another," Goonan said. "This is what is driving me completely crazy. We didn't do this. Because of the decision that was made by this board, we're back here again. I don't blame them, and we're not the only ones that are going to be here. Waterworks is coming. Highway is coming. They're all coming."
"Knowing that the chief has your back in our line of work is critical and we will have his," said Duval. "We support our brothers in blue 100 percent and believe they deserved and earned the agreement that they got. We also believe that we work in a hazardous duty career and think that we should be entitled to similar wages and benefits."
Bill Clayton, a labor relations consultant with Molan Law Office - which represents both firefighter unions - said his firm's clients are bound by law to vote the fact-finder's report. According to Clayton, ballots were sent to the membership on Thursday, and are expected to be counted June 26.
"At that point we will have to mutually agree on a mediator and continue negotiations," said Clayton.
Late last week, Gatsas said he feels for the other municipal employee unions in the city.
"When you look at the contracts that the city hasn't adopted, you've got a lot of employees in the city that are looking at us and saying look what you did for the teachers, look what you did for the police," said Gatsas. "They're saying 'What are you going to do for us?' Every employee on the school side I believe has gotten a raise. At some point there's got to be discussions on when do we take care of people on the city side."
Gatsas again emphasized his belief that recent contracts will result in layoffs in the coming years.
"We found a way around it this time because we used funds that would have lowered taxes," said Gatsas. "I don't know...maybe the voters out there need to send a very clear message in this next election. I think it's time that they either stand up, or maybe the tax increases have to happen."
Following last week's budget vote, Joyce Craig, Democratic candidate for mayor, emailed a statement calling the "contentious and combative" session at City Hall "business as usual" during Gatsas' tenure.
"For eight years, Ted Gatsas has let our city stumble from crisis to crisis while failing to offer solutions to Manchester's most pressing challenges," wrote Craig. "Ted Gatsas talks an awful lot about taxpayers, but the fact is that his administration has a record of poor financial planning and management leading to disastrous results for taxpayers."
State GOP Chair Jeanie Forrester issued her own statement following the budget vote, slamming Ward 1 alderman and state senate candidate Cavanaugh for his vote to override.
"For the second straight year, Kevin Cavanaugh chose to ignore the will of Manchester's working families and stick them with yet another suffocating tax bill to pay off his political backers," said Forrester. "Each vote Alderman Cavanaugh took on Tuesday conveniently raised the budget of all of the unions and special interests that are funding his state senate campaign. Cavanaugh has once again shown us that he cares more about his union backers than the taxpayers of Manchester."
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The filing period for the city's 2017 municipal election doesn't open until July 10, but several individuals have declared their candidacy over the past week.
Former Ward 3 school board member Chris Stewart confirmed he will run for alderman in Ward 1, the seat now occupied by Cavanaugh.
Stewart is the co-founder and vice president of b-fresh consulting, a project management firm, and helped Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., secure the Republican nomination for President in 2008.
"I'm very excited about it," said Stewart, who said he took some time off from city politics while helping to raise his three children with his wife, Sarah, following a move from an apartment in Ward 3 to a house in Ward 1.
Stewart said his campaign will focus on key issues including increasing student achievement, supporting teachers and respecting the rights of parents in city schools; modernizing and reforming city government; supporting neighborhoods and addressing the opioid crisis. Check out www.stewartformanchester.com for more information.
Also last week, Will Stewart declared his intentions to seek the Ward 2 alderman seat held by Ron Ludwig.
Stewart, who is registered as an undeclared voter, has worked as a community services specialist for NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, been vice president of Economic Development and Advocacy at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and now serves as president of the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.
He also serves as the Captain of the Oak Park Neighborhood Watch; Chair of Bike Manchester; a Manchester Transit Authority Commissioner; and is a member of the Friends of Wagner Memorial (Pretty) Park Board of Directors. He is also the author of the recently-published book "An Insider's Guide to Manchester."
"One of the city's main challenges, I think, is one of unmet potential. We have so much going for us. And yet we haven't been able to truly capitalize on that potential," said Stewart in announcing his candidacy. "As a result, I'm hearing from more and more families that they are considering moving out of the city, citing concerns about city schools, as well as crime, and an overall lack of focus on the things that make a city a place people want to live."
Stewart said that, if elected, he will focus on constituent services and advancing the city's economic development and promoting quality-of-life issues in a non-partisan manner.
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One week after former city fire chief James Burkush announced he will run for alderman in Ward 9, Shaw made it very clear she intends to hold onto the seat.
"Seems like everyone else is declaring their candidacies, so I guess I'd better let my loyal constituents know that I will be running for reelection," announced Shaw via social media. "I have worked diligently for eight years for the people of this ward and for the city and I intend to continue with that work if they should so choose. It is an honor to be elected to this position representing the people and should be treated as such."
Staff reporter Paul Feely covers Manchester City Hall for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email: email@example.com.