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Mayor's salary hike proposal called factor in city charter defeat

MANCHESTER — Another Charter Commission has come and gone, and the city's basic governing document remains unchanged.

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected the proposed charter question, 57 percent to 34 percent. The Charter Commission, which can meet only once every 10 years, devised the slate of nine proposals earlier this year after numerous hearings and meetings.

Among the proposals were an increase in the mayor's salary to $100,000 a year; eliminating the health coverage for aldermen and school board members, while raising their stipends to $9,000 and $7,000 respectively; making the welfare commissioner an appointed rather than an elected position; and instituting fines for candidates who do not comply with election filing requirements.

The charter proposals could only be approved or rejected in their entirety.

Tuesday's vote doesn't mean that the ideas are dead for another 10 years. Aldermen, with a two-thirds vote, can place an individual charter amendment on the ballot. Some of the changes, such as the election fines, could be made through an ordinance.

The alderman had already begun discussing making the welfare commissioner an appointed position. It is the only elected office in the city that enjoys yearly annual raises under the city's Yarger Decker system. Because of his long tenure, Welfare Commissioner Paul Martineau has by far the largest salary — $114,000 — of any elected official in the city, the mayor included. Martineau was reelected by an eight-point margin on Tuesday.

Unlike past Charter Commission years, there was little in the way of a public campaign. Charter Commission Chairman Jerome Duval said the commission intentionally kept the proposals modest and easily understandable, but he conceded that voters were put off by the notion of raising the pay of elected officials. "It could be a sign of the times; $100,00 in today's economic climate sounds like a lot of money," he said.

Still, Duval added, both the elimination of the health care benefits for the aldermen and school board members, who are expected to work on a part-time basis, and the pay raise for the mayor were overdue. "I think at some point the mayor's pay is going to have to be addressed, for the health and vibrancy of the city," he said. "We need to talk critically about ways to attract new faces to office."

Fellow commission member Will Infantine said he thought some voters associated the increase with the current mayor, Ted Gatsas, who is a wealthy man.

"I don't think anyone disagrees the pay should be commensurate with the job, but people have a hard time swallowing a $32,000 raise," he said. "It should have been done incrementally."

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