Ted Siefer's City Hall: Aldermen see familiar face; MPD 'smacked' for its actions
August 16. 2014 10:24PM
A FAMILIAR face returned to City Hall last week: former alderman and mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold. Only on Monday, he sat opposite his one-time colleagues rather than alongside them.
Arnold was before the Land and Buildings Committee as the director of MHT Strategies, the political consulting and government affairs shop he recently set up with Jason Fellman. MHT's first client also has a familiar name: VMD Companies, the Massachusetts-based real estate development firm that has been trying to get the city to part ways with the Pearl Street parking lot, where it wants to build a residential tower that would cater to college students.
VMD's past proposal was basically a nonstarter because it looked to the city to finance the $40 to $60 million project. This time, as Arnold crisply explained to the aldermen, VMD intends to arrange the financing on its own, while offering the city $1 million for the lot.
Arnold, you may recall, was the guy who went from a baby-faced no-name alderman at the start of 2013 to the guy who surprised everyone and came within single digits of the popular Mayor Ted Gatsas when he ran for Gatsas' office.
Arnold remains an active presence in Democratic political circles in Manchester, and more than once he's dropped hints that he's still eyeing the corner office.
Arnold told me his new consulting gig in no way ruled out another run for mayor.
"I'd say we ran a very aggressive grassroots campaign last year, and a lot of the issues we were discussing in the campaign are still issues of concern to the people of Manchester," he said.
Of course, another name for Arnold's new avocation is "lobbyist." Is he concerned this might taint him in the eyes of some voters?
"I have a long history of advocating for projects that are in the best interest of the city," he said. "This project in particular would be a great addition to the downtown area and help revitalize this area of Elm Street."
How well Arnold's political past has endeared him to the city's chief executive, Mayor Gatsas, is another question.
You've no doubt heard about the city's crackdown last week on shops selling dubious varieties of potpourri with names like "Smacked" and "Spice."
It may not have come as a surprise that the Manchester Police Department moved to revoke the licenses of the shops selling the products, which were blamed for numerous overdoses. And perhaps it's not a surprise that a certain alderman doesn't like the crackdown: Joe Kelly Levasseur.
In his legal capacity, he represents one of the shop owners.
"I am very concerned about due process and the strong arm of the MPD in this instance," he told me. "My client said he would simply stop selling the stuff if he was asked. He did not need to be shut down. People can get high off airplane glue - should we shut down every business that sells that, too?"
Could this be yet another chapter in the long-running saga of Levasseur vs. the MPD?
Three more groups of district employees are joining the union club. Certified instructors, who specialize in assisting marginal students and those at struggling schools, along with interpreters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and the staff in the district's credit recovery centers have voted to join the New Hampshire branch of the National Education Association. The move affects about 50 employees.
The news was delivered to the school board at its meeting on Monday by Pamela Hogan, the district's human resources director.
The board didn't have much of a reaction, but it's safe to say it wasn't exactly welcome news. There are now precious few nonunion employees in the district, and collective bargaining has long been one of the board's greatest challenges, in terms of both time and resources.
Just look at where things stand with the city's largest union, the Manchester Education Association, which represents the teachers. After several failed rounds of negotiations, the teachers continue to work without a contract; the district is locked into "Cadillac" health care plans - by the federal government's own estimation; and teachers' wages remain frozen.
Mow free or die? Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry says his constituents are getting fed up with unkept lawns and, well, he feels there ought to be a law against it.
Barry wrote to the city clerk's office to request the matter be referred to committee.
Residents of his ward, Barry wrote, are "frustrated with properties throughout the city that are not well kept."
Barry said he had done some research and found ordinances in other cities stipulating that lawns over 12 inches high must to be cut. "A city inspector will send the property owner a letter giving them a certain amount of time to comply, if they don't then the city will cut it and send them a bill," Barry wrote.
Although it should be noted, as Barry does, none of these cities are in New Hampshire.
No one can raise money like Mayor Gatsas, and Monday's school board meeting he once again demonstrated his ability to make it rain. One by one, he invited to the podium the business leaders who agreed to donate money for STEAM Ahead New Hampshire, the academy to open in the fall at West High aimed at setting kids on careers tracks in the sciences (and arts).
The donors had come with checks in hand, and there was a bit of an awkward moment when Gatsas directed them to give the checks directly to district Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis, rather than former city Mayor Bob Baines, the guy heading up STEAM Ahead. Read into that what you will.
Sponsors who have pledged support include Fairpoint Communications, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of new Hampshire, Autfair, NBT Bank, People's United Bank, Mall of New Hampshire, Workplace Benefit Solutions, RSCC Aerospace, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Telephone Network Technologies, Admix, WB Mason, Harvard Pilgrim, Cross Insurance and Centrix Bank.
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.