Paul Feely’s City Hall: ALCU-NH has already put Manchester ‘on notice’ over homeless

New Hampshire Union Leader
March 9, 2019
Paul Feely

Fireworks erupted last week when Mayor Joyce Craig vetoed a proposal from Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines to alter city ordinances to allow downtown business owners to control the use of sidewalks outside their storefronts year-round, despite a 12-0 show of support for the plan from fellow board members.

Encumbrance permits are issued to businesses between April 1 and Oct. 15 to control the use of sidewalk space outside their businesses as needed. Baines’ proposal would remove the date restrictions. Baines said such a change would allow business owners to maintain control of the immediate area outside their doors and prevent groups of vagrants from urinating and defecating in alcoves and doorways.

In vetoing the proposal, Craig repeatedly stressed her belief that “no fundamental difference” exists between the ordinance as currently written and Baines’ proposal.

Under the existing encumbrance ordinance, “Each license shall be valid from April 1 through October 15 and the hours of operation shall be from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The City Clerk, upon application by a licensee, shall have the discretion to extend the dates and times of operation.”

In a prepared statement explaining her veto, Craig references a letter dated Jan. 7 from ACLU-NH Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette that “put the city on notice” that the organization views the proposal as unconstitutional.

Craig quotes the ACLU-NH letter as saying, “The city is limited in its ability to simply designate certain public spaces — sidewalks, for example — as non-public fora (plural for forum) by bestowing exclusive use to a private business.”

“I don’t know why we would knowingly put the city in jeopardy of another lawsuit which will result in wasting taxpayer dollars,” Craig said after vetoing the proposal.

In his letter, Bissonnette doesn’t provide any formal policy recommendations to city officials, as doing so “may exceed the scope of our mission to fight for the rights of all individuals, regardless of income level, to freely use public places in accordance with the State and Federal Constitutions.”

“We do not have ‘silver bullet’ solutions to any of these issues; in fact, fully addressing these concerns likely involves systemic issues and implicates the need for broader community services for low income individuals,” Bissonnette wrote. “The ACLU-NH believes that to meaningfully address homelessness, policy makers must work to resolve the issues that cause people to be insecure in their housing. ”

Bissonnette goes on to address the loitering concerns raised by business owners, several of whom have attended aldermen meetings and offered testimony over the number of vagrants outside their businesses.

“Individuals, of course, have a constitutionally-protected right to be in public places,” Bissonnette wrote. “Accordingly, loitering and no-trespass laws implicating public places pose unique constitutional concerns, especially in so far as they provide the police with tremendous discretion and can be targeted against vulnerable communities. … Moreover, a court would likely view any concern that the presence of individuals and their possessions in public places may make others feel uncomfortable as insufficiently compelling to justify an intrusion on one’s right to be in a public place, especially where the person being impacted has not committed a crime. The Constitution, of course, does not protect individuals from feeling uncomfortable.”

Craig stresses the city is making progress on the issue “on many fronts.”

“I respectfully ask the public and downtown business owners to stop giving people money or food, but rather to refer them to FIT (Families in Transition – New Horizons)-New Horizons, which is now open during the day, so they can get a healthy meal and the services they need,” Craig said. “And lastly, I want to remind everyone: We have a zero tolerance for anyone breaking the law, but we can’t help unless we’re notified. So please, if you see someone breaking the law — doing drugs, committing an assault, completely blocking a doorway or the sidewalk, call the police.”

Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur questioned how Craig could veto a 12-0 vote by the board, but City Clerk Matt Normand pointed out that the mayor, by charter, has the ability to veto any action by the board, and the board can vote to override that veto.

A motion to override failed, with Levasseur surprisingly voting against it, saying he felt Craig’s comments left the city vulnerable to legal action.

“All 12 aldermen voted for the ordinance to help downtown,” Levasseur said. “Mayor Craig, in a prepared statement on live TV, unleashed all the legal advice received in non-public from our attorney. As an attorney, I sat there stunned. All I could think of was how the mayor’s video statement would look to a jury. She had recklessly come out and publicly stated the real reason for the ordinance change was done to intentionally get rid of homeless people. Even Benedict Arnold would have been impressed. She left me no choice.”

City Solicitor Emily Rice doesn’t feel the mayor’s comments were “setting the city up for a lawsuit,” as Levasseur claimed.

“I don’t think any liability has been created here tonight,” Rice said. “I think people are going to draw their own conclusions.”

Baines took to social media last week to thank board members who supported his proposal.

“I would like to thank my fellow (aldermen) for the 12-0 vote in support of my ordinance change that would have given a bit of relief to those conducting business in the downtown,” Baines wrote on his Facebook page. “Unfortunately Mayor Craig vetoed this ordinance change in a prepared speech and the ordinance change was killed. It is essential that we work together to solve issues. A ‘my way or the highway’ approach is never good in any business, and certainly not in city government. I will continue the fight to ensure that everyone that wants to conduct business, live in, and enjoy the downtown feels safe. We can and must do better.”

An app for needles, trash?

Following the veto, one reader of this publication suggested it may be time for the Queen City to invest in its own version of San Francisco’s “SnapCrap” app as a way to combat human waste on downtown streets.

The app is free and lets residents take photographs of feces, needles or trash on streets and sidewalks, and then submit the photos, generating a report to the city’s 311 hotline.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, plans call for a dedicated “Poop Patrol” to respond to these fecal alerts, which total roughly 65 calls a day.

Mansfield named pro

Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard revealed last week that Cory Mansfield has been offered and has accepted the job as golf pro at Derryfield Country Club.

According to Sheppard, Mansfield has been a PGA Class A professional since 1996 and serves on the board of the New Hampshire chapter of the New England PGA. He most recently served as the head golf pro at Montcalm Golf Club in Enfield. In addition, Mansfield has owned and operated a golf academy and been employed as a golf pro at other courses around New England for more than 20 years.

“Mr. Mansfield’s vast golf experience, coupled with his demonstrated business capability, lead us to be confident in his ability to continue the success and growth at Derryfield Country Club,” Sheppard wrote in a memo to city aldermen.

Mansfield takes on the job following the death last November of longtime pro Mike Ryan.

Search firm chosen

School board members are expected to vote Monday to ratify a recent phone poll approving McPherson & Jacobson LLC out of Omaha, Neb., as consultants to head up the district’s search for a new superintendent of schools.

According to information provided in the firm’s response to a Request for Proposals (RFP), McPherson & Jacobson has been conducting national searches for governing boards since 1991. The firm has placed over 725 superintendents and other officials in public and nonprofit organizations across the country.

Members of the Committee on the Superintendent Search — consisting of Ward 9 school board member Art Beaudry as chairman, Mary Georges of Ward 3, Leslie Want of Ward 4, Lisa Freeman of Ward 5 and Kelly Thomas of Ward 12, with Mayor Craig serving as a non-voting member — recommended McPherson & Jacobson after reviewing responses to an RFP issued by the district.

According to the RFP, the firm chosen will be asked to “provide and facilitate community input and engagement efforts regarding desired superintendent skills, characteristics and qualifications; this may include focus groups, surveys and larger community meetings.”

The RFP also states these efforts must include “key stakeholders including but not limited to parents and parent organizations, under-represented groups, students and student leaders, employees, the business community, district partners, and key elected officials.”

The RFP also lays out the following details of the search process:

• Advise the school board on an appropriate compensation package for the position.

• Develop a position paper and/or job description with the school board designed to successfully recruit the best candidate.

• Screen, evaluate and rank qualified applicants and provide a report on each applicant, using criteria set forth by the school board.

• Conduct thorough reference and background checks on all interviewees, as required, including an extensive reference check on three to six finalists.

• Coordinate and facilitate community engagement receptions to provide the community an opportunity to meet and evaluate the final candidates in person.

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