MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) will continue to meet remotely for the foreseeable future despite a proposal to return to in-person meetings.
The proposal was almost forgotten, with the matter coming up just as the BMA’s regular meeting was about to adjourn, with Manchester City Clerk Matt Normand discussing the proposal that was outlined to Aldermen earlier in the day.
Normand said that Aldermen could participate in meetings remotely in a “hybrid” style format either by video or phone, although members of the public would have to be allowed to participate in the meetings as they happen.
According to the proposal, which mandates a minimum of three-feet social distance for all Aldermen who decide to attend and six-feet of social distancing for everyone else, also requires anyone attending to wear a mask due to the city hall mask mandate passed in the fall. A total of 51 people could be in the Aldermanic Chambers at any time including the BMA, staff members and members of the public.
With news earlier in the day that Barbara Shaw (Ward 9) would not be present at the meeting after contracting COVID-19 on Friday, support was limited for the proposal, which could have gone into effect at the BMA’s next meeting on May 18.
Kevin Cavanaugh (Ward 1) praised Normand for the plan, but believed the return should not be rushed and COVID-19 testing should be required for any members of the BMA attending in person.
Jim Roy (Ward 4), Anthony Sapienza (Ward 5) and Keith Hirschmann (Ward 12) also spoke in opposition to an immediate return, with Sapienza also opposing COVID-19 testing requirements for meetings.
Hirschmann, who has contracted COVID-19 and sat next to Shaw when the board met in person, said he would be remote if the board had voted to return to in-person meetings immediately.
“I think it’s just a little bit premature,” he said. “I don’t know if that pushes us into June, but it’s a little too early.”
Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) agreed that it was too soon, saying he preferred not to return to in-person meetings until the mask mandate at City Hall was lifted.
“I don’t want to go back to City Hall and wear a mask. At least here we can talk to each other,” he said. “I think we should do it, but I think we should wait a little longer.”
Levasseur also expressed confusion over what he saw as conflicting messages from medical professionals and government agencies on how to stay safe in the current stage of the pandemic.
He also later said he received a text message from Shaw, stating that Shaw asked to wait on a decision.
Dan O’Neil (At-Large) was one of the few voices of support on the board, but said it might be a better idea to wait until there are fewer meetings in a few months.
Mayor Joyce Craig said she requested the plan to facilitate discussion on the city budget with members of the BMA and others related in the process, which she said is difficult to do remotely.
No vote was taken on the proposal following the concerns relayed by the Aldermen.
Prior to the meeting, Craig asked several other cities across New Hampshire to see what their governing boards are doing regarding in-person versus remote meetings.
Berlin, Franklin, Somersworth, Portsmouth and Rochester told Craig that they are returning to in-person meetings this month or next month. Dover and Claremont use hybrid models and Keene remains remote with no plans to return, but meets in person for committee meetings.