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Costs and benefits: Manchester leaves the BIA

Manchester has become an unusual city lately in that its public officials are increasingly dividing themselves into two camps: Those who want to rethink the way government does business so it can be conducted more effectively and efficiently, and those who do not.

This is unusual because in most local governments there is no serious push for reform. Manchester under Mayor Ted Gatsas is different. From school redistricting to economic development, Gatsas is taking a business executive's approach: Reorganize to improve efficiency, and question long-standing operational assumptions.

Gatsas' latest victory was a small one. This week he convinced aldermen to withdraw the city's membership in the Business and Industry Association (BIA), New Hampshire's self-styled statewide chamber of commerce. The BIA is a useful business network, but for the city, membership was of dubious utility.

Gatsas said he saw no benefits to the $263 annual membership. Three city elected officials are also state representatives, and Gatsas is a former state Senate president, so there really is no need for access to the BIA's lobbyists. The association's networking events can be great for business executives and sales people, but they are not necessary for a city of Manchester's size. The city can put together its own networking events.

The aldermen voted 12-2 to withdraw from the BIA. A few years ago the city withdrew from the National League of Cities, also because the expense could not be justified. But of course there are always people who want to continue doing things the old-fashined way just because that is how they have always been done. One is Alderman Patrick Arnold, who is challenging Gatsas for mayor.

Arnold has said he enjoyed the League of Cities newsletter, so the city should have maintained its membership. He also said the BIA membership should be kept because "we can do more as a city when we work with others."

But of course the city has not suddenly stopped working with others. It has just stopped wasting money on membership fees for which no one can demonstrate a measurable benefit. Either Arnold is just attacking anything and everything Gatsas does, even when it saves the city money, or he believes taxpayer money should be spent on feel-good activities that do not produce tangible results.


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