Paul Feely's City Hall: Manchester aldermen want price tag for bathroom amenities at visitor centerBy PAUL FEELY
November 26. 2017 12:31AM
Last week's meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen was preceded by a lot of potty talk - and not the kind that occasionally emanates from the board's private back room.
Perennial mayoral candidate and local gadfly Glenn Ouellette had his day before the Aldermanic Committee on Administration and Information Systems last week, again requesting the public restrooms at Veterans Park be opened to the public.
According to Ouellette, the bathrooms were last opened Aug. 19 for the African/Latino Festival. The closures are "causing a public health and safety hazard, which puts all citizens and visitors to the city at risk" for exposure to disease, Ouellette said.
"Not only that, but the closures are an unnecessary burden on local businesses who must either accommodate the public with the use of their restrooms, or endure the stench and danger of human waste in their alleyways," said Ouellette.
The city closed the restrooms several years ago. They are in a building that houses the downtown visitor center and volunteers there started complaining, citing drinking and drug use in the restrooms.
The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce operates the visitor center, and President Michael Skelton said he wouldn't want the bathrooms open without a parks attendant on duty.
Ouellette wants the bathrooms open by Dec. 2 on a schedule in line with public bus operations - Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
He said it's unfair that the city operates public bathrooms at Dorrs Pond in Livingston Park in Ward 1, sentiments echoed by several aldermen.
"What's good for Ward 1 should be done at this particular facility," said Ward 4 Alderman Chris Herbert.
"It's not a ward issue, it's a city issue," said Ward 1's Kevin Cavanaugh.
According to Don Pinard, chief of parks for the city, the cost for a bathroom attendant at Livingston Park - including benefits - is about $50,000 a year. Right now the city shares the cost with the school department, said Pinard.
Because the city isn't flush with cash, aldermen directed Deputy Public Works Director Tim Clougherty to look into the cost of installing a camera at Veterans Park to monitor areas near the bathrooms, the cost to create signage displaying rules and regulations, and the cost to put an attendant on site for the hours Ouellette requested.
Clougherty expects to have answers when the committee meets next on Dec. 19. Aldermen were assured the bathrooms at Veterans Park would be open for the annual Christmas Parade on Dec. 2.
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Mayor-elect Joyce Craig could find herself playing the role of tiebreaker on day one of her tenure if early indicators on the race for a new chair of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen play out as expected.
Word inside the aldermanic chambers last week is that two aldermen - At Large member Dan O'Neil and Keith Hirschmann -are actively campaigning for the chairman position.
Current chair Pat Long lost his reelection bid. Phone calls have been placed, conversations had, and an informal poll puts the men in a 7-7 tie as of last week.
A lot can change between now and Jan. 2 - when the new board is tentatively scheduled to meet and pick committee assignments and leadership positions. If no one flips between now and then, Craig could be called upon to cast the deciding vote.
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Jimmy Lehoux has yet to be sworn in as the new Ward 8 school board member, but he's hit the ground running.
Lehoux spent two days last week visiting several schools in Ward 8, including McLaughlin Middle School, Jewett Street School, Southside Middle School, Green Acres, MST and Memorial High School. He promises a visit to Highland-Goffe's Falls is in the works.
"I am extremely grateful to the principals and administration for the time they spent with me introducing me to teachers and students and touring the facility," said Lehoux. "I even had the opportunity to sit in on some classes. I also had some great conversations with each principal regarding the future of our schools, and I have no doubt our schools are in good hands."
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A proposed school board policy on booting board members from office for violations that are removable offenses - brought forth following recent allegations that several committee members leaked confidential information discussed in nonpublic session - has been tabled for additional language.
Last month, At Large committee member Rich Girard proposed to the full board putting in something similar to a Hooksett school district policy. The policy as proposed reads, "A board member shall not be removed from office by either the voters or the board itself, except as provided in RSA 42:1-a. RSA 42:1-a prohibits school board members from breaching confidentiality standards. Violations of this statute may result in the board member being removed from office."
"This was suggested to me by a member of my radio show audience who, after watching this board receive and file the complaint or our attorney's letter, suggested that perhaps putting a policy on the books might draw people's attention to things that they can and cannot do and things that are removable offenses," said Girard. "I think this board needs to take steps to restore the public trust."
"My comment or my concern would be that I have noticed that there are certain voting blocs on this board," said Ward 7 committeeman Ross Terrio. "My concern about this would be that it would be partisan in that people would try to remove other people because they are not in their voting bloc."
"The process for removal is statutory," said Girard. "It involves the majority of whatever board voting to send it to Superior Court, where the matter will be tried and the court will determine ultimately whether or not the person should be removed for violations of the law."
"We don't truly vote to remove the person, we vote to send it to Superior Court?" asked Terrio.
"That's right, it gets tried there," said Girard. "That exists, by the way, without the policy in place, but the policy is a reminder."
"Also under RSA 42, removal from office is not the only discipline that is listed on that," said Ward 5 committeewoman Lisa Freeman. "There is also censure. While removal from office is the last resort, there are other procedures that go with that."
The policy was sent to the Committee on Coordination and Administration, where it was met with additional questions.
"While I certainly am in favor of a policy that would hold everyone on the board accountable for the release of confidential information, the policy as proposed I'm uncomfortable with for a couple of reasons," said Sarah Ambrogi of Ward 1. "One is that the statutory reference refers to town officers, which we do not have. It is not the right statutory reference for a city. Secondly, I am concerned that the policy needs to be more explicit with the terms used, breach, confidentiality. I think the policy needs to be more laid out in terms of definitions of what we are referring to."
Ambrogi said she has experience with confidentiality agreements, and would like to see language added that if a board member is made aware of a matter that is confidential in nature they are prohibited from disclosing it publicly.
"I would like to add to this, I'm not trying to oppose it," said Ambrogi. "I'm just saying I don't think this is enough."
Ambrogi said she would work on drafting new language in time for the committee's next meeting.
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School board member-elect David Scannell, an English teacher at Milford High School who is a former state representative and executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, held on to his victory in Ward 2 over longtime school committeewoman Debra Gagnon Langton following a recount. Following the election, official results showed Scannell edging Langton by 20 votes, 1,070 to 1,050, with 304 blanks and five write-ins.
Following the recount, Scannell's win grew by seven votes, as he received 1,078 to 1,051 for Langton. The number of blank ballots fell to 295 and write-ins remained at five.
Scannell credits his win to hard work.
"The not-so-secret secret to my razor-thin victory was devoting time each day to door knocking," said Scannell. "I am sure that the personal conversations I had with (29) people provided me with my margin of victory. And my wife was a true partner in this endeavor. She must have addressed nearly 1,500 pieces of mail. She walked the ward with me most nights, and she was a one-woman 'get out the vote' operation on Monday."
Scannell also praised his opponent.
"Debra Gagnon Langton is to be commended for the 12 years she served on the board," said Scannell. "Running for and serving in public office is not easy, and Debra did it with aplomb for a long time."
He added he is looking forward to working with Mayor-elect Craig after she and the new school board are sworn in Jan. 2.
"As a mother with a middle school child, Mayor Craig will bring a different perspective to the role of school board chair than any mayor in recent history," said Scannell. "In her, students and parents will have a greater voice in school policy than they have had for many years."
Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.