Ted Siefer's City Hall: New beginning for some, same old same old for others
TUESDAY WAS inauguration day, and the ceremony at the Palace Theatre was aptly formal — the city's elected officials sported white carnations — and full of hopeful and lofty rhetoric. Mayor Ted Gatsas' inaugural address had the theme "move forward."
But after the boards of aldermen and school committee held their organizational meetings later in the day, some elected officials were probably no longer feeling the love.
At the end of those organizational meetings, the aldermen and school board members received the mayor's committee assignments, and the decisions might lead some of them to conclude that Gatsas has been making a list and checking it twice.
There was a great deal of shifting around among the committees. For example, Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur found himself on two new committees, one of them Bills on Second Reading, which meets infrequently.
Of course, Levasseur, although he shares a Republican Party affiliation with Gatsas, has proved to be the biggest thorn in the mayor's side.
"His speech was about the need to move forward and forget the past, but it's obvious he'll never forget. He's all about retribution and retaliation and getting back at people," Levasseur said.
Of course, given Levasseur's fractious relationship with the mayor, some sour grapes might be expected from him, regardless of what committees he was dealt.
But then Ward 5 Alderman Ed Osborne, a 20-year veteran of the board, was also somewhat miffed by his assignments. He lost his chairmanship of the Land and Buildings Committee and was shifted to two new committees, Bills on Second Reading and Accounts. He's not the chairman of either.
"I'm a little upset with it. At least give me Traffic, at least something I'm good at," Osborne told me, adding of Gatsas, "I'm not going to throw mud. That's his business. I appreciate that, but I don't appreciate what I got."
For the conspiracy minded, it might be notable that Land and Buildings was the most thoroughly shaken up. Other committees kept several of the previous members and their chairmen, such as Alderman-At-Large Dan O'Neil, who heads the Accounts committee, and Jim Roy, chairman of the CIP (Community Improvement Program) committee.
There was at least one stubborn issue that couldn't escape the clutches of Land and Buildings last year: the owner of a Dunkin' Donuts near the southern corner of Livingston Park wanted to buy a sliver of park land for the parking lot and a drive-through. The owner also happened to be a friend and big campaign supporter of the mayor. Thanks to the triumvirate of Levasseur, Osborne and Ward 2's Ron Ludwig, who each opposed selling the land for various reasons, the matter never made it out of committee. Levasseur, for one, suspects this played a role in Gatsas' decision to essentially disband the previous committee.
But Gatsas insisted there was no payback in his committee choices.
"I've been very clear, I don't do things based on a political nature," he told me. "Putting committees together is not an easy thing. Some people will be happy and some won't."
Another person one might think would feel dissed by the assignments is political veteran Keith Hirschmann, the newly elected Ward 12 alderman. He had previously held the seat in the 1990s, he's served in the state Legislature, and he's one of the only other Republicans on the board.
But Hirschmann said he had "no problem" with not getting a chairmanship or his two assignments: Bills on Second Reading and Land and Buildings.
"I think the committee work will be interesting," he said. "I didn't expect any favors of any kind. I went in there with low expectations, being the new kid coming back after so many years."
Then there's Art Beaudry, the Ward 9 school board member. He got bumped from his somewhat unlikely chairmanship of the Information Technology Committee (the guy doesn't use email), and he received just two committee assignments: Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities, and Student Conduct.
Of course, Beaudry is by far the board's most active member. And while his passion comes through at every meeting, it's safe to say he hasn't endeared himself to his colleagues.
The most significant thing to come out of Tuesday's organizational meeting was the thorough overhaul of the board's rules of order. If the school board were Congress, the document might have been called the "Anti-Beaudry Act of 2014."
There was a fair amount of confusion over what was actually new in the rules. For example, one of the most hotly debated provisions, concerning a ban on personal complaints from the public against "any person connected with the district," had been in the district's policy book since 2002.
But the changes approved nearly unanimously by the board will have one clear effect. They will ditch the venerable Robert's Rules of Order - which was scarcely understood by members of the board - as its parliamentary guidebook in favor of the rules used by the aldermen. The mayor has a firm grasp of these rules, and the change will likely allow him to wield much more control over meetings, particularly when they come to be dominated by a certain school board member.
The board's new vice chairman, Dave Wihby, who compiled the new rules, wouldn't go so far as to say Beaudry was their inspiration. But he had this to say: "While some people want to get things done, some want to grandstand. If this reduces the grandstanding, maybe it's a good thing."
Beaudry did not return a call for comment about the new rules or his committee assignments.
On Monday, the school board will hold its first meeting of the new year, so we'll get to see the new rules in action soon enough.
Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @tbsreporter.