Last week’s school board meeting included some unexpected drama, as members fell one vote shy of passing a second attempt at getting a question on the city’s tax cap on municipal ballots this fall.
City aldermen took a similar vote in March, when board members opted to receive and file a request that a tax cap question be placed on the November municipal election ballot.
Voting in favor of the question going before voters were aldermen Tim Baines, Chris Herbert and Tony Sapienza. Absent were aldermen John Cataldo and Elizabeth Moreau. The nine remaining board members voted to receive and file the request.
In 2009, voters approved the tax cap, which was later overturned by a court decision. A move by the state Legislature put the tax cap back on the books in Manchester.
The city’s tax cap limits property tax revenue and expenditures.
The cap limits property tax revenue to the previous year’s amount, increased by the average of the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the three previous calendar years.
By charter, there are two methods to get a question on the ballot — a majority vote by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, or petitions from a percentage of voters on the checklist in all 12 wards of the city.
At last week’s school board meeting, after another round of speakers used the public forum portion of the night to lament the lack of a new contract for city teachers and other bargaining units, Ward 8’s Jimmy Lehoux presented an opportunity for board members, unions and residents to work together on securing funds for new contracts.
“That opportunity comes in the form of asking the aldermen to put the tax cap question on the ballot,” said Lehoux. “I think, in a consensus vote on this board, that we ask to have a letter drafted asking that we send the tax cap issue to the aldermen. If we could vote for it, I’m sure we would vote for it, and have it on the ballot. After that we wait a week, and we ask every bargaining unit to also write a letter, send it to the clerk, and we send it as a package showing that we are working together on this issue and we want it addressed.”
“The aldermen already voted on that,” said Mayor Joyce Craig.
“And we can ask them to vote again,” said Lehoux.
“I agree with Committeeman Lehoux. I think we should ask the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to put the tax cap on the ballot,” said Ross Terrio of Ward 7. “It would be nice to hear from the public, what they think, because the original tax cap was criticized as a city election on a rainy day in November. Hopefully this November we’ll have a nice sunny day so the people can come out and weigh in on ‘Do they want to fund the Manchester school district adequately?’ and we should give them the freedom to do that.”
“The Board of Mayor and aldermen already voted, specifically this question, and voted no,” said Craig.
“This board said no twice to seating a student but that didn’t stop the Board of Mayor and Aldermen from ordering that to ballot,” said at-large school board member Rich Girard.
“The board already took action on a question you’re asking them to take action on again,” said Craig.
“In as much as you’ve made clear your opposition to the tax cap, I would think you would welcome the opportunity to give the voters another chance at repealing it,” said Girard. “I have to admit I was a bit surprised at how those votes fell along the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
Terrio moved that the board suspend its rules and take a vote on the matter that night. Ten votes are required to do so, and the motion fell one vote shy of that threshold.
Voting in favor of suspending the rules were Terrio, Lehoux, Girard, Sarah Ambrogi, new Ward 2 board member Kathleen Kelley Arnold, Mary Georges, Leslie Want, Art Beaudry, and John Avard.
Opposed were Craig, Dan Bergeron, Katie Desrochers, and Pat Long. Lisa Freeman and Kelly Thomas were absent.
This weekend Craig announced the hiring of two additional staff members for her 2019 re-election campaign — Olivia Bergen as organizing director, and Dan Bristol as a communications associate.
“I’m proud of the strong team we’ve put together for my re-election campaign,” said Craig. “Olivia and Dan are both talented additions to the team who will play vital roles as we spend the coming months talking with voters across the city about the progress we’ve made and how we can keep making our community stronger. We’re investing in grassroots organizing early because we know one-on-one conversations with voters are the backbone of this campaign.”
As organizing director, Bergen will oversee a grassroots volunteer program across the Queen City. She most recently served as a field organizer for the New Hampshire Democratic Party in 2018, building a volunteer team to support Democratic candidates as part of a successful effort to flip the New Hampshire House, Senate, and Executive Council and maintain Democratic control of both congressional seats.
Bristol previously served as the communications coordinator for the state Senate Democratic Caucus and Committee to Elect House Democrats, where he worked on a team that flipped both chambers of the state legislature.
Craig also said last week her campaign has opened an office at 264 Mammoth Road in Manchester that will serve as headquarters for staff and volunteers and host canvasses, phone banks and events throughout the course of the campaign.
“We’re excited to open a space for volunteers and voters to come in and talk about their ideas for Manchester and the issues that matter to them,” said Craig. “There’s a spirit and energy across our city as people are stepping forward and working together to address our challenges. Having a space to gather and organize is a key piece of our campaign’s grassroots efforts to reach out to friends and neighbors to discuss how we can continue delivering results that make our city stronger.”
The Craig campaign will hold an official office opening event on Wednesday, June 19 at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Guests can RSVP at bit.ly/JCOfficeOpening.
Republican former state Rep. Victoria Sullivan, a former assistant house majority leader and Ward 9 resident — and Craig’s lone challenger at the moment — unveiled her initial list of campaign ward co-captains this weekend. These individuals will partner with Sullivan in efforts to reach voters throughout the city.
“I am proud to announce our first list of campaign co-captains in every ward,” said Sullivan in a statement. “They will be integral in our efforts to make Manchester shine once again. Each of these individuals are esteemed activists and public servants who understand the need for change at City Hall. They have dedicated their efforts to improving Manchester and raising awareness about the most pertinent issues impacting it. With their help, and the assistance of additional ward co-captains who we will be announcing in the coming weeks, we will be building a grassroots army of concerned residents who will lead our efforts in every corner of our city.”The initial slate of co-captains includes:
Ward 1: Cliff Hurst, former vice chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a former chairman of the Manchester City Republican Committee. In past presidential campaigns, he was a co-chairman for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Ward 2: Anthony Pugh
Ward 3: Joe Lachance, a former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a former ward moderator
Ward 4: Jean and Stephen Mathieu, small business owners
Ward 5: Lisa Freeman, current school board member from Ward 5 and a former state representative
Ward 6: Larraine Parsons-Lencki
Ward 7: Andreas Reif
Ward 8: Bob McCarthy
Ward 9: Gail Barry
Ward 10: Ray Hebert
Ward 11: Liz Vargas
Ward 12: Keith Hirschmann, Ward 12 alderman.
Craig will host a ceremony this week honoring members of the local Class of 2019 entering military service.
“These young men and women are making a decision to help keep our nation safe,” said Craig. “It’s important our community recognize our graduates for their efforts, and invite everyone to attend and celebrate their dedication to our country.”
The ceremony will be held Thursday, June 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the McIninch Library at Manchester High School Central, 535 Beech St., on the second floor of the Burns Building. The event is free and open to the public.
Ambrogi confirmed this week she will not seek reelection to the Ward 1 school board seat this November.
“I will have served five terms at the end of this year, and while it has been my honor and privilege to do so, I believe it is time for a fresh voice to represent my ward on the school board,” wrote Ambrogi in an email to a Union Leader reporter. “I have spoken to several people who are interested in running for my seat, so I am confident Ward 1 will be well represented in 2020 and beyond. I have no plans to run for any other office at this time, but I plan to continue to serve our great community in other ways.”
With Terrio, Avard and Desrochers previously announcing decisions not to seek reelection, the school board will look very different in January 2020.
Desrochers has announced on social media her intentions to seek an at-large seat on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at email@example.com.