Ted Siefer's City Hall: It was all about chickens, alleged threats and nocturnal wanderings
Call it the case of the zombie chicken. About a year and a half ago, aldermen were asked to consider adopting an ordinance that would allow residents to keep chickens at their homes. The matter languished on the table of the Administration Committee until a couple of weeks ago, when the Planning Department presented a thoroughly researched and carefully crafted ordinance. The committee debated it - and then nixed it.
At Tuesday's meeting, it seemed certain the full board would back the committee's recommendation and put the chicken proposal out of its misery. But then Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau pulled the item off the agenda.
"This matter stems from a constituent in my ward," he said. "I do think, having reviewed these ordinances, such as the ones in Portland and Providence, these laws in terms of allowing residents to have hens on their property seem quite reasonable."
The zoning ordinance drafted by the Planning Department would allow up to six hens (no roosters) at single-family homes with lot sizes of at least 7,500 square feet. The birds would have to be kept in an outdoor henhouse that would have to meet specified sanitary and construction standards. To devise the ordinance, planning officials researched chicken policies in Amherst, Providence, R.I., and Portsmouth, among other communities that have responded to the growing interest in urban (or suburban) chicken raising.
Ward 7 Alderman William Shea, a member of the administration committee, reiterated his concerns about the adverse effects chickens might have on public health, as well as the added cost the policy might impose. "I think this would add a great deal of problems to the city," he said.
But the board was impressed by a proposal advanced by Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy. His idea was to have a licensing system, whereby would-be chicken owners would pay for a special permit that would be approved through a public process.
"If it would be a variance, that would go with the property in perpetuity," Roy said. "(But) if it's a license, you have control. Each year you have to get it; you would have to get input from the neighborhood; and it would produce a little revenue."
In the end, the board voted to send the proposal back to committee, with the directive that it consider a licensing scheme.
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Arguably the main event at Tuesday's meeting was the latest bout between Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, former Alderman Phil Greazzo, and their respective allies.
Levasseur, as you may have heard, has filed a lawsuit against the city and radio host Rich Girard, seeking to block the city from turning over emails both Girard and Greazzo have sought through right-to-know requests. If Girard was in Greazzo's corner at Tuesday's meeting, Levasseur had an unlikely ally in Jon Hopwood, a rather passionate activist and blogger who has gone after Greazzo over his management of the Manchester Dog Park, as well other matters.
Girard was on hand to deliver a speech decrying Levasseur's lawsuit, which he called "another set of falsehoods."
But the drama preceded the opening of the meeting. Much earlier in the day, around 4 a.m., Girard had spied Hopwood planting a Levasseur campaign sign outside the studio where Girard broadcasts his show. Apparently, Girard surmised on his show, "Hopwood doesn't realize how early we get up every Monday through Friday to report on fools like him."
Hopwood offers a somewhat convoluted explanation for why he was in front of Girard's studio, saying he needed a photo of Girard for his blog, and his dog needed to be walked, so why not head over there .
But there was more drama yet to come. Just before Girard and Hopwood were to make their public comments to the aldermen, the two ran into each other in the men's room outside the chamber.
Hopwood alleges that Girard threatened him, saying, "Have the (insert vulgarity) to go at it man to man."
In his speech before the aldermen, Hopwood, without naming names, indicated he would be filing a police report.
Hopwood did file a report with the Manchester police against Girard the following day. Hopwood says he's not interested in pressing charges, but he told me, "I filed a report because I believe he's a danger to me."
Girard, for his part, denies making the comment or any other threatening statement to Hopwood.
He said in an email that Hopwood "is looking to deflect attention away from his own childish behavior. . If he did actually file a report, I will consider pressing charges for filing a false one."
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Besides the speechifying during the comment period at Tuesday's meeting, the aldermen also had to consider the latest attempt by Greazzo to get Levasseur sent to the Conduct Board or, even better, booted off the board.
The majority of aldermen, it would seem, are done with this issue. They voted to receive and file Greazzo's letter, in which he cited sections of the city charter and state law to make his case.
The motion to dismiss Greazzo's letter was made by Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann, an ally of Levasseur, and seconding the motion was Levasseur himself. Some observers later insisted this was a brazen conflict of interest. The charter says city officials are not to participate in any decision in which they have a financial or personal interest.
Greazzo can - and very probably will - add this to his list of grievances against Levasseur. In his view, the request to have the alderman sent to the Conduct Board is "not optional."
"I didn't create this situation," Greazzo said in an email. "It was created by the repeated pattern of a pathological liar, and I seem to be the only one in the past 15 years who won't shrug it off as someone's quirky behavior."
Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.