Ted Siefer's City Hall: Greazzo's attention to detail keeps board honest
Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo is often a one-man minority, casting the lone dissenting vote against nearly any measure that requires spending more money. Other times, his objections are based on a close reading of proposals. This was the case at Tuesday's aldermen's meeting, and this time he could claim a couple of rare victories.
Greazzo pointed out the "workplace violence policy" that aldermen were poised to pass after months of review contained a provision - barring employees from bringing firearms to work - that was on shaky legal ground. Not only did it raise Second Amendment concerns, he noted, but the ban also seemed to directly violate a state law that says municipalities can't regulate firearms. Later in the week, Greazzo's position was validated by the city solicitor, who found that the provision, "upon further review," would conflict with state law and should be removed from the policy.
The other proposal was the vicious-dog ordinance, which was first floated a year ago and has been through several committees, including, as all new ordinances must, Bills on Second Reading. The aldermen were set to give the ordinance final approval on consent - without debate - until Greazzo pulled it off the agenda. He pointed out that, as written, the ordinance would only pertain to one category of vicious dogs as defined in the state statute: those that are "at large." The intent of the regulation, of course, was much broader, to give the city a means of taking action against the owners of dogs that exhibit the full range of "vicious" habits: biting, chasing people, barking for longer than a half-hour at a time, etc.
Once again, the bill was sent back to committee for review. In this case, only a minor alteration may be in order: removing the "a" from the law quoted in the ordinance: RSA 466:31. Greazzo has his own beef with the ordinance, that it doesn't contain any language granting an exception for dogs that behave in a "vicious" manner to protect their owners on their own property. Such a change at this stage might be a harder sell.
But the fact that the measures could come so close to being placed on the books perhaps raises the question of how well they're being vetted in committee.
Greazzo doesn't think there's a problem with the system, but he does feel that too many aldermen are willing to sign off on measures that violate personal rights.
"I'm more concerned the board is willing to pass them than their vetting of them," he said. "These are intelligent people."
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Greazzo was again the lone holdout - he abstained - when it came time Tuesday to confirm William Craig as the city's economic development director.
The vote to confirm Craig brought to an end the long, strange trip that the city's economic development office had been on since the previous director, Jay Minkarah, abruptly resigned last November. Mayor Ted Gatsas was a strong proponent of eliminating the department and folding it into the mayor's office. But the aldermen, responding to concerns raised by sectors of the business community, pushed back, and the Manchester Economic Development Office - MEDO - was reborn. Maybe now it should be referred to as "REDO."
There were reservations about Gatsas' pick of the fresh-faced Craig, who had been policy director for Gov. Maggie Hassan but did not have business development experience. Based on the gushing of several aldermen on Tuesday, Craig won over those who had been on the fence.
Gatsas clearly likes the guy - and that will count for a lot because the mayor will certainly continue to play a large role when it comes to business affairs in the city.
"I'm looking forward for Mr. Craig to start because there will be an awful lot of items on the table," he said at the meeting. "It's going to take some long hours, but I know his love for the city wasn't second to anyone interviewed. I know he'll give 100 percent."
Fortunately for Craig, he'll have some help. Minkarah had apparently left the office in a degree of disarray, and the aldermen voted to allocate an additional $50,000 to the office, in part to hire a secretary.
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Following the municipal primary last month, it appeared that mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold had a full head of steam. He won 40 percent of the vote, more than anticipated for a two-term alderman and a relative newcomer to the city. And he had raised more than $64,000 over the year, also a more impressive tally than Gatsas' previous challengers.
But a closer look at his campaign disclosure report revealed that a good chunk of that money came from in-kind contributions in rent and from people working on his campaign. Perhaps the most puzzling detail was that more than $10,000 came from Huck Montgomery, Arnold's paid campaign consultant. Arnold has described Montgomery's payments as contributions to his campaign.
What was clear from Arnold's filing was that, taking the two sides of the ledger together, his coffers were low and needed to be replenished. His most recent disclosure report, filed 10 days after the primary, suggests the campaign might be losing steam. It shows Arnold raised only $812 since the primary, while the campaign spent an additional $9,675. Kevin Hodges, Arnold's campaign manager, insisted that the low tally just reflected a lull between fundraisers. "We're actually doing great," he said. "We've been pleased with the level of support since our incredible showing in the primary."
Gatsas, meanwhile, whose campaign has already taken in more than $200,000, raised $7,000 more, including a single $5,000 contribution from Amoskeag Urgent Dental Care.
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Manchester tends to play hard to get when it comes to "sister city" relationships with foreign municipalities. Last year, the aldermen voted against partnering with Pendik, a city in Turkey.
But how could they say no to Manchester, England?
Our fair city is not only named after the one across the pond, but, as Robin Comstock, the president of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, explained at the aldermen's meeting last week, it was "mirrored exactly on Manchester, with the belief that it would be an improvement, that they could do better for the mill workers."
Comstock was joined by leaders of the British consulate in touting the relationship between the cities. They even presented copies of an article in the British chamber of commerce's magazine about "the other Mancunians with American accents." A British delegation, including business leaders from the other Manchester, visited the city last February.
There is one potential hitch, and it's one that has proved an obstacle to the city joining or remaining a part of other well-meaning organizations, such as the municipal association or the school board association: the dues. Being a member of Sister Cities International costs $880 a year, which the chamber would split with the city.
"I would have to look to see what the pluses and minuses are," Mayor Gatsas said, noting that MEDO, under the previous regime, had been paying dues to the organization without his knowledge.
Gatsas said if the partnership was about fostering a real relationship - not just a symbolic one - that would boost economic activity, he might be inclined to support it. "If there's any way we can create jobs in this country based on demand in England, that's a good thing," he said.
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The City Hall clock tower has been bathed in pink light this month, and no, it's not because the mayor is getting in touch with his feminine side. It's for a good cause: to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There will be several events to raise awareness about the disease and money to fight it - and during the last week of the month, city firefighters will once again take to wearing pink T-shirts.
Ted Siefer may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.