Another closed-door discussion on handling homelessness in the Queen City has opened the door to additional frustration among city officials.
Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines surprised some during last week’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen when he asked that his proposal to allow downtown business owners to control the use of the sidewalks outside their storefronts year-round remain tabled.
At the suggestion of City Solicitor Emily Rice, aldermen went into nonpublic session to receive advice from counsel and hear information on homeless-related legislation such as “no sitting on the sidewalk” ordinances, also known as “sit-lie” laws because they prohibit sitting and lying down. When the board came back into open session to adjourn for the night, Baines’ proposal remained tabled for a second straight meeting.
Baines, owner of Mint Bistro on Elm Street, believes his ordinance change could help business owners dealing with concerns raised by customers over the number of homeless outside businesses.
Encumbrance permits are issued to businesses between April 1 and Oct. 15 to control the use of sidewalk space outside their businesses, as needed. Baines is looking to have the date restrictions removed, saying the change would allow business owners to maintain control of the immediate area outside their doors.
Following last week’s board meeting Baines sent an email to fellow aldermen that stressed the need for the board to take some — any — action.
“The situation going on in and around the downtown did not happen overnight and it will not be solved overnight either,” Baines wrote. “What I do know is that doing nothing is no longer an option. Citizens of Manchester from every ward in the city like to enjoy our downtown and I believe it is the duty of this board to ensure a safe environment.”
Baines writes that before the-now SNHU Arena opened in 2001, “most of Elm Street was boarded up.”
“Building owners would rent to any potential tenant, many of which ended up being treatment facilities and social service organizations,” Baines wrote. “With the arena, ballpark, a revitalized Palace Theatre, and investments by restaurateurs and shop owners, downtown Manchester came alive again.”
Baines points out that two new hotels are in the process of being built, coupled with the projects like the revitalization of The Rex Theatre are signs people continue to want to invest in the Elm Street corridor.
“I do not believe that business as usual or pointing to the fact there are similar issues going on elsewhere helps the cause,” Baines wrote. “City leaders past and present have raved about the success of Safe Station and it has become a national model in some ways. While this is great, we have to talk about the unintended consequences as well. The ACLU is focused on Manchester and has shook some to their core in a way that has empowered those causing trouble, while the rest of the community suffers.”
In his email, Baines said aldermen may have to make “tough decisions” when it comes to these issues because “the same old safe approach will not continue to work.”
“Whether we like it or not, Manchester is a magnet for those suffering with addiction,” Baines wrote. “We are not serving these individuals best when all of their services are located in and around the downtown, where temptation is everywhere.”
Baines said the downtown is at a critical crossroads.
“We are close to seeing businesses shut their doors because they cannot sustain the hits from the amount of people no longer willing to brave the elements downtown,” Baines said. “The eyes of the nation are about to be on Manchester and I hope we can work toward solutions and that our community can be viewed in a positive light. We can work together in finding Manchester solutions to this difficult problem.”
Reached after last week’s meeting, Baines said he emerged from the nonpublic session frustrated.
“I’m not looking for a fight with the ACLU but I think there should be a conversation with the full board,” Baines said.
He said he plans to have his proposal come off the table at the board’s next meeting.
Baines attended last week’s inaugural meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness, a new initiative from Mayor Joyce Craig.
“This was a very good group of leaders in the community,” Baines said. “I think the dialogue was good. It was helpful and I’m anxious to see going forward if we can come up with workable solutions.”
A new education initiative from Gov. Chris Sununu to incentivize learning outside the classroom is being roundly criticized by teachers unions, but the proposal has at least one prominent fan in the Queen City — Superintendent of School Dr. Bolgen Vargas.
State education officials say the “Learn Everywhere” program will give students high school credit for completing internships and other after-school activities. Educators have aired concerns about the initiative, claiming a work-based program run by the state could adversely impact local programs.
Doug Ley, president of the American Federation of Teachers–New Hampshire, last week offered personal testimony against the Learn Everywhere proposal.
“As currently outlined, the Learn Everywhere program removes from local control the decisions regarding standards for credit-bearing activities and courses, thereby reversing longstanding New Hampshire tradition,” Ley said in a written statement. “As an organization representing educators who work closely with local administrators and school boards, AFT-NH rejects the centralization of authority over graduation standards and supports keeping it at the level closest to students, teachers, and citizens—the local level.”
In a letter dated Feb. 12 to the state Board of Education, Vargas champions the proposal as an opportunity for districts like Manchester to “expand and foster the opportunity for learning.”
“The Manchester School District strives to help every student succeed and thrive in the way that works for them,” Vargas wrote. “Students participate in a wide variety of educational experiences outside of the school day and the four walls of the schools. The Manchester School District welcomes a simplified process that identifies these programs by allowing the programs to be approved at the state level. By doing so, the State will be recognizing and further encouraging the efforts of local districts, such as Manchester, to engage students in rigorous and innovative learning outside of school.”
Vargas goes on to say he is excited to see “what the program can bring to Manchester students” and urges board members to approve the proposal and Ed 1400 administrative rules.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony has been scheduled for early May to reveal a bench in the Millyard honoring the longtime Queen City resident who invented the home video game.
In the mid 1960s, Ralph Baer and a small group of engineers at Sanders Associates — which later became BAE Systems — pioneered video game technology. They eventually licensed the technology to Magnavox, which produced and marketed the Odyssey in 1972, the world’s first video game console.
Baer started his career as an engineer and inventor after escaping Nazi Germany and fighting in World War II. After a brief stay in New York, Baer moved to Manchester in the 1950s, where he would live until his death in 2014 at age 92.
Baer had more than 150 United States and foreign patents, and his contributions ranged from talking doormats and greeting cards to submarine tracking systems. In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Technology. In 2010, he was admitted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Baer’s son, Mark, has been working with local entrepreneurs Jeremy and Elizabeth Hitchcock, John Clayton of the Manchester Historical Association and Dan Berube of the Manchester Arts Commission on a Kickstarter campaign to fund the building of a bench in his father’s honor.
Recently the Baer Square fundraising committee announced the official ribbon-cutting celebrating the unveiling of Baer Square will take place on Friday, May 10.
The commemorative bench is expected to feature a likeness of Baer sitting with his “signature brown box,” the early gaming console he and his team developed. The bench will be located at Arms Park, on the end of Stark Street facing the water and in front of the Millyard.
One final item this week: Craig will deliver her FY 2020 budget address on Wednesday Mar. 27 at 6 p.m. in the aldermanic chambers at City Hall.