Paul Feely's City Hall: Manchester staffers bring Mayor Gatsas to tears with goodbyeBy PAUL FEELY
Union Leader Staff
December 23. 2017 5:54PM
Last week's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting served as a swan song of sorts for Mayor Ted Gatsas, the final opportunity of his fourth consecutive term to preside over a meeting of the full board before handing off the gavel to Mayor-elect Joyce Craig on Jan. 2.
On a night filled with heartfelt comments, none hit home harder than the collective tribute read by Gatsas' three City Hall staffers - Samantha Piatt, Gatsas' chief of staff; Carrie Perry, special assistant to Mayor Gatsas for education; and Vicki Ferraro, constituent services representative.
"The three of us have been waiting nearly eight years for our three minutes, and as you can imagine we have a lot to say," said Piatt. The trio have been part of Gatsas' administration since he took his oath of office Jan. 5, 2010.
First up was the topic of education.
"A lot is said in this chamber about the education the Manchester school district provides for our children," said Piatt, who spoke on behalf of Perry and Ferraro. "As a parent of a child in the district, I can attest to the valuable education my daughter is receiving. I want everyone to know that there in not one school in this district I would think twice about sending my daughter to.
"The Manchester School District is unique. There isn't a district in this state that could offer her the kind of education I want her to have, except Manchester - a high-quality education full of diversity, and some adversity, that is preparing her for the world we live in."
Next up was the opioid epidemic.
"In our tenure here at city hall this issue has dominated," said Piatt. "While we have made progress, this progress seems to always get hampered by politics and that's unfortunate for the lives and families it has affected. There is great work being done by our department heads and recovery community. Mayor Gatsas, you always acknowledge what we are doing right, the lives that we've saved, and the families we are helping rather than trying to diminish our progress for political gain.
"With picture perfect clarity, I can recall how Safe Station came to be. It was a true collaboration with one person - you - telling us to get it done on a deadline we all thought impossible. You knew it was possible, you pushed us, and for that I know there are many families that are grateful."
When you ask the mayor about his family, Piatt said, he will tell you he's fortunate and blessed.
"In his wife, Cassandra, he gains compassion for everyone and every animal," said Piatt. "In his mother, Pearly, he knows the feeling of unconditional love, a caring home, and a warm meal to return to. In his brother, Michael, he knows unfiltered counsel. And in his nieces and nephews - Mandy, Danny, Matthew and Celia - he finds fearless defenders. And with his grand nieces and nephews - Calla, Matthew, Adra, Harper, and Brody - he sees the future of our city. This is what drives the Mayor in every decision he makes."
Piatt said one of the guiding principles for Gatsas across his four terms in office is creating opportunity.
"Creating opportunity for those whose family, or personal situation, might prevent them from enjoying what he shares with his and creating it for themselves," said Piatt. "When you brought City Year to Manchester, FIRST robotics to all of our fourth-grade classrooms, and worked with (former Superintendent Tom) Brennan to make the Manchester School of Technology a full-time, four-year high school, opportunity was your only motivation. We are proud to have had a small part in helping you do this."
Piatt said she and her co-workers would take with them a few words of wisdom from their time at City Hall with Gatsas.
"The first one: Don't fight battles with people that buy ink by the barrel," said Piatt. "The second: When you point one finger, you point three more back at yourself. And, of course, our favorite: Emails are forever.
"But the most valuable lesson we take with us is one of leadership. You are a remarkable leader. You have led the city through some very difficult times and brought us to the success we realize today. The city's success is a result of your leadership. There was never anything you believed we were not capable of, or a problem that we couldn't solve."
By the end, Gatsas was clearly fighting back tears.
"Yeah, you broke me down," he told those in attendance. "But for good reasons."
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Similar accolades - along with clocks and certificates of appreciation - were offered to outgoing members of the school board at its final meeting of the year.
Among those honored were Connie Van Houten for her four years representing Ward 12, and Erika Connors for six years representing Ward 8.
"I simply want to say that I wish to thank my ward and all the people that I worked with," said Van Houten. "This is a fantastic group of people. I'm very proud of our schools. I'm proud of our teachers. I'm proud of our students. I will continue to be part of this city and part of working with our students. Thank you all for what you do for our kids."
School Board Vice Chair Art Beaudry of Ward 9 presented Gatsas with a certificate of appreciation and a clock.
"A lot of people complain about what happens in this chamber, but I can say that Mayor Gatsas has always had a heart for the district and for the people in Manchester," said Beaudry. "Some of the initiatives that were dear to me that I don't believe would have been brought forward if it wasn't for the mayor being in his position, one was full day kindergarten, but most importantly the initiative that I introduced many years prior to him being on the board was to get MST as a four-year high school. They kept telling me it couldn't be done, but Mayor Gatsas got on board and he made it happen. I applaud him for that."
"Certainly, I'm not going anywhere," said Gatsas. "I'm going to stay right here in the city of Manchester and will make sure that all the students that I've signed honor roll letters for over the last eight years continue the great successes that they have had. Again, to the students of this great city, continue your great education. Thank you to the teachers that have provided that great education and the administrators who have worked very closely with the teachers to make sure the students of Manchester are the best students anywhere in the state of New Hampshire or in this country."
Beaudry also recognized Committeewoman Debra Langton of Ward 2 for her 12 years on the school board, whom he referred to as "my closest friend on this board of 12 years."
"Deb and I didn't know each other 12 years ago, but we became not only colleagues, but very good friends," said Beaudry. "She will truly be missed by me especially. Her heart was always in what was good for kids and took care of students, parents and taxpayers."
"I just want to say thank you," said Langton. "It has been a privilege and an honor to work with the community and advocate for our children, teachers, parents and taxpayers."
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At Large school board member Rich Girard was unable to attend last week's BMA meeting, due to the final meeting of the Committee on Curriculum and Instruction this term taking place at the same time, but offered well wishes for Gatsas on social media.
"Mayor Ted Gatsas made an extraordinary commitment to his weekly appearances on our radio show and they were invaluable to our audience's understanding of the issues facing the city and what was being done to address them," said Girard. "Never once did he ask me to address or avoid an issue. He took all questions and all comers, even those he knew would be adversarial to his position or cause and he always let one know where he stood and why. More in public life should follow his example. Sure, he was gruff at times, but those who act with a sense of purpose and urgency because they see things so clearly and are trying to help, often are. Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for your devotion and unwavering commitment to the city we both love so dearly."
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The Manchester School District has partnered with the city library to launch a new Winter Reading Program for preschool, elementary and middle school.
Children in preschool or elementary grades have been given reading records, set up like game boards. For every 15 minutes they read, students are asked to color in or cross out a snowflake. A completed game board amounts to five hours of reading time.
Middle school students were given reading challenge forms at school, which ask them to read at least one book and write a brief review.
The Winter Reading Program runs during the winter school break, through Jan. 2. Completed reading records can be dropped off at Manchester City Library, or school libraries until Jan. 10. Each student who submits a reading record will receive a reading incentive prize from a local business.
Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.