Mayor Ted Gatsas has been called out by Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau who, on behalf of his fellow aldermen, is questioning the mayor’s authority to restrict public access to Bronstein Park.
“Where the heck is the mayor’s head at?” said Corriveau. “The decision to close the park to the public hasn’t been vetted, just as his decision to shut down three businesses. This is sort of Constitutional law 101.”
On August 22, the city posted several “No Trespassing” signs around the perimeter of the park as directed by the mayor, which prohibits the public from using the park during school hours. That decision came one week after dozens of people suffered medical emergencies around the city, including in Bronstein Park, due to ingestion of a synthetic substance known as “spice,” which was being sold legally from local convenience stores.
Police determined a particular batch of spice which was hitting the streets last week, bubblegum flavored Smacked, was the cause of the medical emergencies. About 50 people required medical treatment over a 48 hour period.
Following a sweep of more than 50 stores in the downtown area, the city immediately revoked the business licenses of three stores on Aug. 13, which were closed for business for several days for allegedly selling the product.
On Aug. 18, Superior Court Judge Diane Nicolosi granted an injunction to one of the store owners to reopen. Nicolosi said the city had violated the store owner’s right to due process.
A hearing held Aug. 19 at City Hall restored the licenses to all three shop owners, who publicly promised not to sell spice anymore.
On Aug. 25, Corriveau issued a memo to Alderman Pat Long, Chairman of the Committee on Lands and Buildings, requesting a special meeting to review whether Gatsas took appropriate action in enforcing the restrictions at Bronstein Park without conferring with aldermen or engaging the public.
He said an attorney representing the American Civil Liberties Union has since contacted the city with a legal analysis of the process applied to shutting down Bronstein Park.
Corriveau, an attorney, said the fact that Gatsas is citing a decades-old ordinance as justification for his action after the fact, without at least consulting with aldermen first, could be setting the city up for more legal action.
“I don’t want the city to be sued again. We’ll probably have to pay significant legal fees and bills for the store owners whose stores were shut down. The last thing I want is for the city of Manchester to get a reputation in the judicial system as taking unilateral actions and taking people’s rights into account, after the fact,” Corriveau said.
Corriveau says the matter should be discussed in a public setting and include law enforcement as well as members of the community.
“The mayor hasn’t been seeking any advice or counsel from the Aldermen. He’s been conducting private meetings with department heads. There’s really been no transparency in the mayor’s process, which is part of why I requested a special meeting,” Corriveau said.
On Aug. 20, during the hearing process at City Hall, Gatsas said he had no reservations about shutting down the businesses.
“I would do it again – one hundred times, the same way,” Gatsas said. “It’s easy to understand that when you take 40 overdosed patients in a 48-hour period, there’s a problem. It’s no different than if Chief Burkush called and said we’ve had 10 arsons in 10 hours. You have to do something,” Gatsas said.
Attempts by Manchester Ink Link to reach the mayor Monday night for comment for this story were unsuccessful.
Corriveau said that the board of aldermen are as concerned as anyone about what appears to be a marked increase in drug users populating city parks, particularly Bronstein.
“The unfortunate part of shutting down a park is that it doesn’t really solve the problems – people living in a trailer at the park, or likely drug addicts hanging out there will just find another place,” Corriveau said.
He added that if the mayor is shutting down businesses or restricting public access to a public space based on “public safety issues,” then those issues need to be clearly documented and enumerated.
To that end, Corriveau has requested historical data from the city on the legal standing for restricting the park, and crime and public safety data regarding police action in Bronstein Park, and whether students have been victimized in the past.
“He says he’s trying to protect students. Well, from what? Why was this action taken so quickly or unilaterally? Why not go through the proper channels, which include the Board of Aldermen, police and community leaders? It’s an imperialistic attitude,” Corriveau said.
Attorney and Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, who filed the injunction on behalf of one of the store owners in court, said the mayor is “coming apart at the seams.”
“He’s having a full public meltdown right before our very eyes. He doesn’t know how to stop what’s going on in the city. He doesn’t have a clue how to say sorry, or that he’s wrong. He is an egomaniac of the worst kind – he and [Police Chief] Mara. I wouldn’t believe this if I wasn’t seeing it firsthand. It’s actually very sad to witness. I’m not glorifying in it. I am actually really sad for this,” Levasseur said Monday night.
Corriveau said a special meeting will likely take place early next week, possibly on Tuesday.
“Maybe there are less restrictive alternatives that would reduce any public safety threat to students and still allow people to use the public park. There are a lot of people in the Bronstein Park/Central High School neighborhood who enjoy the green space. This is their place to enjoy a little bit of nature in downtown Manchester,” Corriveau said.
“The rest of us elected officials have to start taking the issue upon ourselves. We’re dealing with the legal ramifications and practical and political aftermath of what he’s done. It’s time to start asking questions and get the data behind these alleged public safety threats,” Corriveau said.