Manchester aldermen go extra, roundabout mile to see firefighter hired
July 05. 2014 8:18PM
AS A GENERAL RULE, the aldermen tend to heed the advice of department heads. This is especially the case when the counsel comes from City Solicitor Tom Clark, the guy responsible for making sure the city's actions comport with the law. So it was surprising on Tuesday to watch as the aldermen brushed aside the opinions of both Clark and Fire Chief James Burkush to intercede on behalf of Jon Fosher, the strapping young lad who wanted nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of his firefighter father and grandfather.
To be sure, it was the kind of cause local politicians fall over themselves to support: An earnest young man eager to enter a heroic line of work only to be stymied by a government bureaucrat, in this case the doctor who advises the city's Human Resources Department on matters of occupational fitness. The doctor refused to sign off on Fosher because the applicant had a rod in his back and fused vertebrae (the result of a car accident when he was 16), making him ineligible to be a firefighter under national guidelines.
On Tuesday, the aldermen were to consider a motion that would back Burkush in his decision to hire Fosher. But there was a late-breaking development: His deputy chief told the board that he had spoken personally to the city's doctor. The doctor agreed to go along with the assessment of Fosher's doctor, who deemed the applicant physically capable of handling the job.
Burkush told the board he preferred that they simply receive and file - or toss - the motion; he wanted to hire Fosher, and he saw no impediments at this point.
And yet, the aldermen were undaunted.
As Alderman Garth Corriveau would later put it: "We want people like Jonathan Fosher to come and serve and protect our city. This is bureaucracy and red tape getting in the way of someone who I believe will be an exemplary future firefighter."
But Mayor Ted Gatsas was flummoxed that his colleagues wouldn't let the motion go. In his view, the proposal not only set a bad precedent (encouraging future frustrated applicants for city jobs to turn to the aldermen), but also violated the city charter by interfering in the hiring decisions of department heads. He turned to Clark to back him up.
Clark said his concern was that the motion not only backed the chief, but also directed him to hire Fosher.
"If you're going to make a decision (on this), I would ask that the motion support the chief in whatever decision he takes," he said.
But supporters of the motion argued they were not telling the chief what to do, but expressing support for his own preferred course of action.
And so it was that the board not only passed the motion, but also overrode Gatsas' veto.
It fell to Gatsas to offer the fitting final words on the debate. "Good luck in the new job," he told Fosher.
It's looking increasingly unlikely that the West Side Ice Arena will undergo a "renaissance" after all, at least of the kind a group of local business partners had proposed. The partners, doing business as West Side Renaissance Park, wanted to take over the operation of the arena with the goal of overhauling the facility and boosting youth hockey programs.
The aldermen were close to approving a deal with the group, but there was a big sticking point: Renaissance wanted the city to fund the renovations through a $1 million bond, and this required a 10-vote supermajority of the board.
Mayor Gatsas, along with a few of his colleagues, felt that the Renaissance guys were not forthcoming enough about their background and finances, so the issue was tabled while they awaited more information. Renaissance's contention was that the contract it had with the Manchester Regional Youth Hockey Association, the arena's main tenant and source of revenue, was the city's guarantee. In the event Renaissance defaulted on the deal, the 25-year hockey association contract would revert to the city.
It was expected that the matter would be pulled off the table at Tuesday's meeting. Instead, Deputy Public Works Director Tim Clougherty shared an intriguing bit of news: The city had reached a deal with the association, extending its tenancy at the arena for four more years.
The revelation undermined one of the main arguments put forward by Renaissance's supporters, that not agreeing to the deal could send the association packing for a more hospitable venue.
Since the poor conditions at the arena were first highlighted, aldermen voted to approve spending about $150,000 for new boards and glass, which are expected to be installed by the fall.
That apparently was worth something: a four-year agreement with the hockey association, subject to yearly reviews.
A few months ago, aldermen at long last voted to pass a chicken ordinance, allowing up to six hens on parcels a half-acre in size, or 21,780 square feet. It appears concerns about the regulation are now coming home to roost (sorry).
As Alderman Ed Osborne has stated on several occasions, the parcel size defeats the purpose of the ordinance because the vast majority of plots in Manchester are much smaller than a half-acre.
During the public comment period at the beginning of last week's meeting, chicken advocates - including some of the people who first hatched the idea (ditto) - spoke out against the proposal.
"Most people I know live on 5,000-square-foot lots," said Kaitlyn McCarthy. "Excluding them is discrimination against people of a different class. Maybe if I made different choices, if I married the right person ... I'd live on 20,000-square-foot lot."
The ordinance isn't expected to come up for a final vote until August. In the meantime, we'll see whether the chicken lobby springs into action.
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.