Paul Feely's City Hall column sig

City voters could be faced with a ballot question this November on a proposed charter amendment involving changing ward boundaries, if aldermen approve a request from City Clerk Matt Normand.

As residents may recall, for 40 years voters in Ward 6 cast ballots at St. Pius X Parish, but church officials severed that relationship with the city in January 2017. Normand said due to a lack of alternative locations within the ward suitable for voting, polls were set up at the Henry J. McLaughlin Middle School.

The problem with that — as pointed out by the Attorney General’s office at the time — is the school’s campus is located approximately 750 feet from the western boundary of ward 6, situated along the outer edge of Ward 8.

“We have held four successful elections at the new location since that move,” writes Normand in a memo to city aldermen. “The Attorney General’s office allowed for the new location with the understanding that we would amend the ward lines to properly position 290 South Mammoth Road — McLaughlin Middle School and Green Acres School — within ward 6 by the end of 2019.”

Therein lies the real issue: Manchester remains the last of a few cities that still define their ward boundaries by charter, instead of codifying them within local ordinances. Concord, Nashua, Portsmouth, Lebanon and Rochester, as well as Boston, Mass., Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., have all transitioned to ward lines defined by ordinance.

Because ward descriptions are embedded in Section 5.33 of the city charter, any proposed amendment involves a lengthy process including a state review and citywide election.

Normand writes that a potential scenario exists where a candidate’s right to be elected is jeopardized during the redistricting review period following the decennial census in 2020.

Since the city’s filing period occurs prior to the final ward adjustments and voter approval in the municipal election year, a candidate for office could be eligible during the June filing period, placed on a primary ballot in September, then find themselves moved to another ward when voters approve ward line adjustments in November — thus making the candidate ineligible for office.

“Fortunately this has never happened in Manchester, but it has occurred in other communities,” writes Normand.

The ordinance process allows aldermen to hold public hearings, receive resident feedback and vote on proposed ward configurations.

“You wouldn’t have to hold a citywide election every time you want to change boundaries, which we have to do today,” said Normand.

Normand said if his request is approved by aldermen, and by voters this fall, his office has an interim plan ready that has been reviewed by the Attorney General and Secretary of State offices that would create boundaries that capture the McLaughlin school complex within Ward 6.

“This would not change any lines at this time,” said Normand.

Once a redistricting process is conducted by the state following the census, Normand estimates about 110 homes would be affected by potential ward boundary changes.

Aldermen voted last week to schedule a public hearing on Normand’s request.

.

Ward 8 Alderman John Cataldo announced on Facebook last week he will not seek reelection to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen this fall, after serving one term.

“Much has changed in my life and with my young family since I was elected in the fall of 2017,” writes Cataldo on social media. “The time has come to decide whether or not to continue to serve our community in the capacity of alderman by seeking re-election. After much thought and prayer, I have decided not to run for another term. There is still much to do and accomplish before my time is up, and I look forward to the service ahead in the remainder of my term.”

Several city officials offered words of support following his announcement.

“John — you have served the people well and have been a welcome fresh face on the board,” wrote Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines on Facebook. “It has been a joy to work with you. You will certainly be missed.”

“You have served your people well,” wrote Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw. “You stand for what you believe in and what is best for your city and your constituents. I admire your courage and ability. Family first.”

“Thank you John for all your hard work and the many laughs on the campaign trail,” wrote Ward 8 school board member Jimmy Lehoux. “When we started they said two newbies could not win against the powerhouses that were our opponents, but we did it. Glad to have worked with you and good luck with the new endeavors.”

.

While one local elected official was calling for the Safe Station program to be shut down last week, a Midwestern city was celebrating the launch of its own version of the program.

Safe Places Cincy, a pilot program that lets those seeking treatment get it fast by walking into a Cincinnati health center, kicked off last week.

Safe Places Cincy works like this: If you want addiction treatment, go to a Cincinnati health center and ask for it. From there, a “strike force team” will determine if someone needs hospitalization. If so, they are brought to a hospital. If not, they are connected with one of three partnering addiction centers.

Sound familiar?

Fire Chief Dan Goonan traveled to Cincinnati in September to talk about the Safe Station program with officials there.

A fire department in Colerain Township, Ohio, adopted the program two months later, in November 2018.

.

A reminder: the Board of School Committee will hold its rescheduled public hearing on the proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the aldermanic chambers at City Hall.

City school board members voted earlier this month to send two budget request numbers to the aldermen — one a tax cap budget figure, the other additional funds needed to cover new contracts and technology improvements.

The Board of School Committee members voted to send a tax cap budget figure of $172,236,978 — which includes funds to cover costs associated with redistricting and new high school band uniforms — to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

School board members also voted to send a second budget request of $176,036,978, representing an additional $3.8 million to cover collective bargaining agreements and technology improvements.

.

One last reminder: Mayor Joyce Craig will deliver her FY 2020 budget address on Wednesday, March 27, at 6 p.m. in the aldermanic chambers at City Hall.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com