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Manchester aldermen reject turning two of own over to conduct panel

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

August 17. 2017 12:54AM


MANCHESTER — The Manchester Board of Aldermen narrowly declined to turn two aldermen over to the conduct board even after a city lawyer concluded they could be legitimately accused of breaking the charter when they voted for firefighter raises that benefited their sons.

Mayor Ted Gatsas protested the 6-5 vote of the aldermen Tuesday, but was powerless to do anything once the board set aside citizen complaints brought against Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig and Ward 11 Alderman Normand Gamache.

“It is imperative we send a clear message to the people of this city that we all represent that we can’t take things lightly,” Gatsas said.

“Just to sit here and say no, we aren’t going to send it because there is no teeth, I just don’t believe that is the right thing to do. I think it’s time we all respect the charter a little more than we all do.”

The mayor who faces a stiff re-election challenge, said it might be time to update this charter, adopted in 1996, to create more specific sanctions for unethical behavior.

“Look, there is a charter. We all stand up on that stage in January, and we take an oath, every one of us. It is an oath I believe we all take very seriously,” Gatsas said.

“Even if we sent this tonight to the conduct committee, there is nothing that can be done so maybe there has to be a rewrite of this charter.”

Here’s how they voted on Ward 7 Alderman William Shea’s motion to refer to the conduct board two complaints about Ludwig and Gamache that failed to pass on a 5-6 vote.

• Voting Yes (5): Ward 3 Alderman and Chairman Patrick Long, Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw, Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann, Alderman-at-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur and Shea.

• Voting No (6): Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh, Ward 4 Alderman Christopher Herbert, Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza, Ward 8 Alderman Thomas Katsiantonis, Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry and Alderman-at-Large Daniel O’Neil.

• Not Voting (2): Alderman Gamache abstained from voting and Alderman Ludwig was absent.

Ludwig has two sons working for the Manchester Fire Department. City salary data show Kurt Ludwig received $63,250.92 in salary in 2016, and $36,160.95 in benefits. A second son, Karl, earned $52,574.26 in salary and $23,896.08 in benefits in 2016. Gamache also has a son in the fire department, District Fire Chief Michael Gamache. He received a salary of $145,839.67 and $62,609.46 in benefits last year.

Both voted for a firefighter pay raise in June that Gatsas set aside by vetoing it; an aldermanic move to override the veto failed.

According to Manchester’s City Charter, Section 9.03(e), which regards conflict of interest, “No city official shall participate in the decision-making process of any matter in which the official or a member of the official’s immediate family has a direct personal or financial interest. Any official who believes such an interest exists shall disclose such interest and shall not participate in the matter further.”

Ward 8 resident Jim Gaudet and Ward 7 resident Lisa Gravel brought separate complaints calling for the conduct board probe. Gravel got 127 residents to sign a petition in support.

Gaudet said both Ludwig and Gamache should be removed from office

“The unbridled arrogance, basically giving the middle finger to the city, has gone on for far too long,” Gaudet said. “The citizens of this city deserve respect.”

But Alderman Herbert said the conduct charter language was too open-ended.

A member of the New Hampshire House, Herbert points out state lawmakers can declare a conflict but still vote.

“I don’t like the restrictions being placed as there are. You could have 2,400 people in a department because one person is related to you, you cannot take part,” Herbert said. “I think that is improperly restrictive. It takes away the representation of our ward.”

Alderman-at-Large Levasseur said the proper thing was for the conduct panel to review this.

“I would not vote for my son’s firefighter’s raise. I don’t think it looks good and I don’t think people appreciate that. That’s just me,” Levasseur said. “I am not one to sit here and speculate and decide what two or three aldermen did for their sons or daughters and whether that raises to a violation. I would like to send this to the conduct board for more of an investigatory matter.”

Deputy City Solicitor Patrick Arnold, who retires at the end of this month, reviewed the matter and concluded the two aldermen were “city officials” covered under an anti-nepotism provision of the charter.

Arnold wrote Ludwig’s firefighter sons “had a monetary and pecuniary interest in the adoption of the fact finder’s report” that is “not shared by the public at large,” as did Gamache’s son.

“As a result, Alderman Ludwig and Alderman Gamache had immediate family members with a direct pecuniary interest in the adoption of the fact finder’s report and recommendations,” Arnold concluded.

Arnold said he did not speak with the attorney general’s office before forming his views.

“When I wrote the letter, no I just reviewed the clear language of the charter and cast my opinion which I stand by,” Arnold said Tuesday night.

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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