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Dems probe Manchester mayor's role in allowing restaurant to open despite needed repairs

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 14. 2013 10:20PM
Joe Kelley Lavasseur holds a catering order in the kitchen of Theo's Restaurant on Elm Street in Manchester in January 2010. (UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — The city Democratic party has filed a right-to-know request concerning Mayor Ted Gatsas' role in the reopening of a restaurant that had been ordered closed by a city inspector.

As the New Hampshire Sunday News reported this week, Theo's was allowed to reopen three months after a fire in Dec. 2010, despite city inspectors' insistence that the necessary repairs weren't complete.

Levasseur was not an alderman at the time, but he had served as aldermen in the past and is a widely known local personality, due in large part to his television show on the city's public access channel. He was elected alderman-at-large in November 2011.

Frustrated by the red tape he felt he was encountering in reopening his restaurant, Levasseur told the Sunday News that he "had to call Mayor Gatsas to get them to let me open my business."

Gatsas has strongly denied that he told anyone to allow him to reopen the business, saying rather that he told the inspectors to "work with him."

Elizabeth Kulig, the chair of the Manchester Democrats, said the organization filed the public records request because it was concerned the mayor was apparently getting involved in the business inspection process.

"We want to know why the mayor is exposing city residents and visitors to potential health risks," Kulig said, adding, "You shouldn't need political influence to run a business in Manchester. If these establishments are having problems ... we think there's a better way to get things done."

Among the information sought by the Democrats is Gatsas' calendar between March 1, 2011, and August 12, 2013; correspondence and other records of communications between Levasseur and Gatsas; and correspondence between Levasseur and city departments and employees relating to his restaurant.

The request was filed Tuesday with the city clerk's office.

Kulig noted that Theo's was the second recent news story about a city restaurant being allowed to reopen after an inspector issued a cease order. Last month, the owner of KC's Rib Shack was ordered to close its outdoor patio and tiki bar over health and building violations.

The restaurant was allowed to reopen after the mayor convened a meeting with the owners and inspectors. Gatsas also issued a new policy requiring inspectors to get the approval of a department head before ordering the immediate closure of a business.

Another alderman, Republican Phil Greazzo, railed against the closure at KC's, calling it an overreaction and an example of the heavy-handed and hostile attitude some inspectors have toward business owners.

The code enforcement officer who ordered KC's patio closed, Jim Tierney, is the same one who ordered Theo's to remain closed two years earlier.

Gatsas maintained that he doesn't tell inspectors how to do their job. "I never get involved with the experts," he said.

He said his department would comply with the request, as it has with other recent information requests from the Democrats. He also pointed out that any correspondence to or from himself would be limited. "I assume they understand I don't do e-mail," he said.

Levasseur called the right-to-know request a "waste of city employees' valuable time working for the good citizens of Manchester."

Levasseur, who as an alderman has often clashed with Gatsas, backed away from the claim that the mayor enabled him to reopen his restaurant. "Gatsas already admitted in the (Union Leader) that he did nothing to help me open my restaurant," Levasseur said in an e-mail. "Knowing how much he likes to take credit for everything, I now believe him."

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