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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Gelinas won't seek reelection; mayor gets new desk

City Hall

July 13. 2013 11:12PM

The biggest news in the first week of the filing period for the 2013 municipal election may be who isn't running. Dave Gelinas, the vice chairman of the school board and cumulatively its longest serving member, is taking a "sabbatical."

Gelinas confirmed the speculation that he had planned to switch boards and make a run for the alderman's seat in Ward 7. But this was contingent on longtime incumbent Bill Shea not running. Gelinas said that Shea had told him earlier in the year that he didn't plan to run again. Apparently, Shea had a change of heart; he submitted his papers on July 8, the opening day of the filing period.

Gelinas said he's not retiring from public life. He began his first 10-year stint on the school board in 1973 at age 22, making him at the time the youngest elected official in city history. He was elected again to the school board 30 years later, in 2003.

"I didn't want to serve for another two years (on the school board) when there are other board members who want to move up," Gelinas said.

He's said he's still very interested in the alderman's seat, but it can wait. "I felt it was time to give myself a little rest. Sometimes being in office, you lose the perspective of being a citizen. This is going to give me two years to be a citizen," he said.

Gelinas' exit means there could be a showdown when the board elects its vice chairman in January. It could very well feature the other two main contenders from two years ago: Dave Wihby, who surprised some by filing to run again for his at-large seat, and John Avard, Ward 10, who has taken an increasingly prominent role on the board and emerged as a counterweight to its chairman, Mayor Ted Gatsas.

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Candidates haven't exactly been beating down the doors to the City Clerk's Office to run for office. But then there's still another week before the July 19 deadline. And one encouraging sign is that some of the newer, younger members of the school board have again declared their candidacies, including Ward 5's Ted Rokas, Ward 8's Erica Connors and Ward 3's Chris Stewart.

That might belie the conventional wisdom that one of the main incentives for people to serve on the school and aldermanic boards is the perk of health care coverage. The roughly 20 elected officials who receive the health care benefits - the aforementioned candidates included - could very well stand to lose them if voters approve the Charter Commission changes that will be part of the ballot in November. The commission has proposed eliminating the benefits while increasing the stipends for school board members and aldermen to $7,000 and $9,000, respectively.

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It was only a couple of months ago that the aldermen voted overwhelmingly to put economic development affairs under the purview of the Mayor's Office. It was a role that Mayor Gatsas, himself a former businessman, seemed eager to take on, and it was the de-facto arrangement that had emerged since the resignation of the city's economic development director in the fall.

Now it appears that there's an attempt to shift these plans into reverse.

The joint Administration/Human Resources Committee on Tuesday will consider a proposal to again make economic development be a proper department, with its own director, rather than a division of the Mayor's Office.

The proposal was crafted by Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, as was the earlier plan to place the program in the Mayor's Office.

The issue, which first arose during the debate at the May 21 meeting, concerns who would have the authority to hire and fire the two new economic development staffers. If they're working in a division of the Mayor's Office, that would be the mayor.

"I think we all agree longevity is good," Long said. "We don't want a new mayor to come in (and change the staff). If a person is doing good, let's continue."

It also appears that the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and other local business mavens have made their views known. They've strongly advocated for the city to maintain an independent economic development office with its own chief.

"The mayor, to his credit, took it over. We needed someone to do that. But the business community, the chamber, Amoskeag Industries, they all agree we need to have an Economic Development Office. It shows the city is interested in economic development," Long said.

Gatsas, for his part, said he believed that his office - even without dedicated staffers - had shown it could handle business development.

"Things were going better," he said. "We certainly have been conducting economic development through the Mayor's Office."

Gatsas said he didn't think that there would be an issue with employee continuity, and he noted that Nashua handles economic development though its mayor's office.

There's something else to consider. The city's independent auditor has conducted an audit of the now-defunct Manchester Economic Development Office, and Gatsas said it should be finalized by the next aldermen's meeting.

Gatsas said he wouldn't discuss its findings until the report is released, but he did say there were concerns that prompted the review. "I'll let it speak for itself," he said.

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There's a new piece of furniture in the aldermanic chamber at City Hall - and it's hard to miss.

It's referred to as the mayor's desk, but this hardly does justice to the 600-pound, 7-foot-wide oak behemoth. It's more like a double-wide podium, and it was recently installed at City Hall after being restored by a specialist in Chesterfield.

The desk, which is estimated to be around 110 years old, had served as the perch for mayors of yore in the old City Hall chambers.

At the aldermen's meeting earlier this month, Mayor Gatsas gave credit where it was due: Alderman Phil Greazzo, Ward 10. He's the one who proposed having the desk restored, using $2,500 in unspent municipal complex funds. The desk had been forlornly tucked away in the hallway of the Welfare Department. And to think the aldermen had worried they wouldn't be able to find a place to put it.

Ted Siefer may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.

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