Paul Feely's City Hall: Keno for kindergarten might be issue for voters to decideBy PAUL FEELY
August 12. 2017 9:49PM
Last week, Franklin became the first municipality in New Hampshire to put a Keno question on the ballot as a way to raise money for full-day kindergarten. Nashua officials are expected to take up the debate in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, Manchester aldermen are scheduled to discuss the merits of putting a ballot question before voters in November seeking to allow Keno in bars and restaurants in the Queen City.
Charles McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, met with Mayor Ted Gatsas recently and sent a letter to city aldermen, requesting officials place a question on the ballot. According to McIntyre, 2.5 percent of all Keno sales in Massachusetts currently are played by New Hampshire residents.
Gov. Chris Sununu recently signed Senate Bill 191, a bill to fund full-day kindergarten by taxing newly authorized Keno games in New Hampshire. The bill guarantees $1,100 per student each year, supported by revenue from Keno. If the gaming revenue rises over the years, the state per-pupil grant could reach $1,800 per student.
The program is voluntary, with Keno only coming into communities where voters approve the measure either by a town meeting or citywide referendum.
In his letter, McIntyre writes that - based on information received from the Department of Education - lottery officials believe Manchester could net an additional $1.3 million in fiscal year 2019 from the Keno initiative.
Board of Mayor and Aldermen Chairman Pat Long of Ward 3 said the aldermen he has spoken with about Keno over the last week still have questions about the game and the funding, and the matter could be sent to committee for further discussion.
Long, who is also a state representative for Manchester, voted for SB 191.
If aldermen oppose putting a Keno question on the ballot, another method exists to place the issue before voters - by getting 5 percent of registered voters in Manchester to sign a petition requesting the issue be put on a ballot. There are currently 55,843 registered voters in the Queen City, which translates to 2,790 signatures needed.
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Back in June, Ward 8 resident Jim Gaudet sent a conflict of interest complaint to Gatsas' office against two aldermen after a vote to approve a fact finder's report recommending raises for firefighter and fire supervisor unions, citing "flagrant disregard of City Charter provisions concerning conflicts of interest."
That complaint finally goes before aldermen this week, following a vetting by Deputy City Solicitor Tom Arnold.
In case you've forgotten, city aldermen voted 7-6 to approve the report, with Kevin Cavanaugh, Ron Ludwig, Chris Herbert, Dan O'Neil, Tom Katsiantonis, Bill Barry and Normand Gamache voting in favor. Opposed were Keith Hirschmann, Long, Tony Sapienza, Joseph Kelly Levasseur, Bill Shea and Barbara Shaw. The report recommended two-year pay increases of 3 percent per year for Manchester firefighters and supervisors.
Ludwig, who is not running for reelection this fall in Ward 2, has two sons in the fire department, while Gamache - who is seeking to retain his Ward 11 seat - has one.
According to Manchester's City Charter, Section 9.03(e), which deals with conflict of interest, "No city official shall participate in the decision-making process of any matter in which the official or a member of the official's immediate family has a direct personal or financial interest. Any official who believes such an interest exists shall disclose such interest and shall not participate in the matter further."
In reviewing the complaint, Arnold writes that the city charter defines "city official" to include aldermen.
Section 9.02(d) of the Charter, writes Arnold, defines financial interest as "a monetary or pecuniary interest in a ... matter whether direct or indirect, not shared by the public at large. A city official shall have a financial interest in the affairs of immediate family members ... ."
Arnold writes that Ludwig's firefighter sons "had a monetary and pecuniary interest in the adoption of the fact finder's report" that is "not shared by the public at large," as did Gamache's son.
"As a result, Alderman Ludwig and Alderman Gamache had immediate family members with a direct pecuniary interest in the adoption of the fact finder's report and recommendations," writes Arnold.
"A clear and plain reading of the charter would indicate that both aldermen are elected officials, their children are immediate family members, and the provisions of the Conflict of Interest article are quite clear that they may not discuss, deliberate or vote on these matters," writes Gaudet in his complaint. "It is my expectation as a citizen and taxpayer that this matter will be investigated and referred for administrative procedures as set forth in the Charter. I expect that both aldermen are to be publicly sanctioned, fined and even removed from office as this is a penalty prescribed by law."
What will the aldermen do with the complaint, and Arnold's findings? We'll find out Tuesday night.
A similar complaint filed last month by Ward 7 resident Lisa Gravel against Ludwig and Gamache - the one that received 127 signatures of support from concerned residents - also appears on the agenda this week.
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Earlier this summer longtime City Solicitor Tom Clark abruptly announced his retirement after a review by the Attorney General's Office of decisions made by one of his prosecutors in cases involving domestic assault or abuse, followed by Arnold's revelation he will retire effective Aug. 31. The first question many had was what will each receive in severance pay. Last month, city Human Resources Director Jane Gile said it was too early to tell, because the payouts they receive are based on unused vacation and personal or eligible sick leave time they have at the time of their departure.
Well, the numbers are out, and the payouts are costly - so much so that new interim City Solicitor Emily Gray Rice will go before aldermen this week and ask them to once again dip into the city's contingency fund to cover severance costs "so that operations will not be curtailed" in her department.
According to a memo from Rice, Clark has already been paid a gross amount of $87,676.33 in severance, while Arnold will be paid approximately $69,963.83. That number is subject to change based on how much vacation time he uses between now and Aug. 31.
Those total more than $157,000 in severance payments. Rice will ask aldermen Tuesday night to add enough funds to her department's budget to cover the payouts.
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We'll end with this item: if you've ever wanted to vent any frustration over City Hall, head to Lot A at Manchester Boston Regional Airport this Wednesday for the second annual "Dunks for Wishes" to benefit Make-A-Wish NH. Organizers have rented a dunk tank from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and arranged for airport employees and local "celebrities" to be dunked to raise money for the charity. The cost is $5 for three balls.
We have it on good authority Gatsas will be in the dunk tank at 10:30 a.m.
Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com.