Sometimes the most interesting items aren't on the agenda.
At Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, prior to the start of the formal session, there was an impromptu seminar on Patronage 101.
Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur raised a question that probably every elected official has had to grapple with at some point.
What do you do if a constituent asks for help getting a city job?
And what if they're related to you?
“Someone called me about a job at the waterworks,” Levasseur said. “I don't want to be put in jail or anything. People obviously look to us to help our constituents, but where are the bounds?”
Mayor Ted Gatsas, known to run a tight ship when it comes to board meetings, curtly responded that city Solicitor Tom Clark could address the matter when he returned for the formal meeting.
But Levasseur pressed on. “You were an alderman for 12 years before you became mayor. Did you help people get jobs?”
The mayor wasn't exactly forthcoming.
Other aldermen, however, weighed in.
“It's been going on many, many, many years,” said Alderman Ed Osborne, who himself has been around for many, many, many years.
He recalled that several decades ago he proposed that city jobs be filled through a lottery system.
“They almost jumped out the window. The aldermen, the mayor, they were all trying get a daughter or uncle jobs at the city. Nobody thought (the lottery) was a good idea. So here we are in the same boat,” Osborne said.
Alderman Barbara Shaw said she contacted the city's Human Resources Department to ask about constituents and jobs.
“They told me you can make someone aware of a person who might be good for a position, but you can't say this person should get the job. Those days are gone in the city. It's fair game for everyone,” Shaw said.
Later, Clark, the city solicitor, gave me the low-down. Under Section 9:03 of the city charter, aldermen can't direct a department to hire a specific person. They can, however, recommend a candidate or serve as a reference.
As for relatives, city officials can't participate in any decision to employ or appoint an “immediate family member” to any city position.
The discussion is not entirely academic.
A former parks and recreation manager is demanding $227,000 to settle allegations that he was passed over for a promotion due to the interference of Alderman Dan O'Neil. He was silent during Tuesday's discussion.
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How many votes does it take to override a mayoral veto?
It seems like it would be pretty simple math, but the question has proved vexing in the wake of the resignation of Russell Ouellette, the former Ward 11 alderman who pleaded guilty last month to assault charges against a woman he picked up at a bar.
It takes a two-thirds vote to override the mayor's veto. With a full board of 14 aldermen, that's 10 votes. Now that there are 13 aldermen, wouldn't one less vote be necessary for an override?
That's what Alderman Garth Corriveau figured when, donning his lawyer's cap, he raised the question with Clark at last week's meeting.
Clark insisted that 10 was still the required number for a veto override.
“Two-thirds of 13 is 9.75,” Clark said.
“OK, fair enough,” replied Corriveau. Then he pulled out his calculator. In fact it's 8.6, which would be rounded to nine.
After the meeting, Clark told me that the charter refers to two-thirds “of all the aldermen elected,” and based on his interpretation, this number didn't change with the resignation of Ouellette.
More recently, Deputy Solicitor Tom Arnold said the office is reviewing the statute in light of the Corriveau's concerns.
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Are there buyers ready to plunk down cash for the city's soon to be vacated downtown police station? And will the aldermen get a chance to review the offers? Inquiring minds want to know, namely that of Alderman Patrick Arnold.
“Is this board ever going to see these mystery buyers?” Arnold asked Gatsas in response to the revelation at last week's meeting that the mayor had spoken to a couple of people who may be interesting buying the nearly 40-year-old building.
Gatsas didn't like the insinuation.
“Mystery? You think I'm making it up? I don't have to tell who they are until they're ready to submit something,” Gatsas said.
The mayor later assured the aldermen that they would have a chance to review any and all official offers.
“If there are 10 interested submissions, you'll see them all,” he said.
Arnold was among those who voted in the minority last month against putting the Chestnut Street police station on the market. Their view was that it would be better to use the building for other city departments.
There was consensus on one point last week. Since the sale is going forward, the asking price should be $2.1 million, which is at the high end of the building's appraised value.
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Last week, we learned the Welfare Department spends most of its $1 million budget on salaries, not assistance.
The information was brought to light by Alderman Levasseur, who has been raising pointed questions about the agency's budget and, in his words, the “ridiculous” six-figure salary of Commissioner Paul Martineau.
After an article about the welfare budget this week, Martineau called to clarify a few things and to emphasize the savings he's brought by restructuring the staff and implementing a rigorous process to determine eligibility for assistance.
“I saved the city $2 million since I've been here,” he said. “I guess some people are upset I'm not giving away enough money.”
His rising salary over the past 10 years, and that of his staff, is a byproduct of contractual raises and cost-of-living adjustments, he said.
There was another clarification. Levasseur said Martineau's salary was $110,000.
Martineau said he gets $113,000.
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There may be a new addition to the Manchester Police Department's Mounted Unit.
The aldermen voted last week to approve the purchase of “Jerry,” a 6-year-old black gelding, from a couple in Maine for $4,000.
Jerry is now being put through his paces.
The sale agreement includes a 30-day trial period. Should Jerry pass muster, he would join Valor, the other horse in the Mounted Unit.
And there will be a full unveiling, so the members of the public can meet the newest member of the force.
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Ted Siefer may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @tbsreporter.