MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen declined to block the police from enforcing a ban against the public using Bronstein Park during school hours on Wednesday, the first day of classes for the new year.
At its meeting Tuesday, the board rejected a motion from Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur that would have directed the police not to arrest anyone until the matter had been fully vetted by the aldermen.
Mayor Ted Gatsas and Police Chief David Mara indicated last month that they would start enforcing the ban against public use of the park in response to more than four dozen medical emergencies linked to the ingestion of “spice,” a synthetic marijuana product sold at some convenience stores. The park is used by Manchester High School Central, as well as other schools.
The board’s Committee on Lands and Buildings is set to hold a special hearing on the park ban today.
Levasseur on Tuesday said the board should take action now to prevent legal action against the city.
“I don’t want somebody getting a ticket tomorrow, and having the ACLU come in and us having to defend this case,” he said. “There’s already people with cameras down there. I don’t believe we can wait.”
Levasseur has taken issue with Gatsas’ response to the surge in spice-related incidents, successfully challenging the city’s move to revoke the business licenses of three stores alleged to have sold the product.
Gatsas insisted that the ban on the public using the park during school hours was based on a city ordinance.
“This is not one that Ted Gatsas came up with. There are signs already up,” he said. “Student safety, as far as I’m concerned, is the most important issue we can stress.”
City ordinance 130.40 bans trespassing on school grounds during school hours. City Solicitor Tom Clark said the aldermen voted in 1969 to officially designate Bronstein Park a school facility for Central High.
But Levasseur said new data released by the Manchester Fire Department indicated that only three spice-related incidents occurred at Bronstein Park last month, contrary to claims that it was the primary site of the medical emergencies.
A map produced by the fire department shows ambulances were dispatched to numerous locations in the downtown area, and as far east as the Mammoth Road area, in response to adverse reactions to spice.
While a majority of the aldermen rejected Levasseur’s motion on a voice vote, Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil, the chairman of the board, said a more “comprehensive plan” was needed to deal with the problem.
“These citizens using spice, we’re never going to police our way out of any issue,” he said. “This stuff is happening all over the city.”
Mara agreed that the city needed to “deal with the root problem.” But, he added, spice posed a unique challenge because of its uncertain legal status. “If we get an ordinance or state law, that’s going to go a long way toward getting these people out of the park.”
The debate came on the same evening that the board voted to support a motion from Aldermen Joyce Craig and Garth Corriveau to have city officials draw up an ordinance banning the use of spice products.