City will enforce park restrictions, despite lingering legal questions

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Interactive map showing fire department service for spice-related calls in August.
Interactive map showing fire department service for spice-related calls in August.

A city ordinance restricting public access to Bronstein Park during school hours still stands, despite a move from one alderman to wait until the ordinance could be properly vetted.

During the Sept. 2 Board of Aldermen meeting, Alderman-at-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur made a motion to delay enforcement of ordinance City Ordinance 130.40, which bans public access to the park between 7:30 a.m and 4 p.m. on school days.

“Right now that ordinance is in effect. I would like it to be vetted before police go into parks and start handing out tickets. The bottom line is the Chief and his police officers are charged with enforcing that ordinance tomorrow. I don’t want anybody getting a ticket or being taken out of the park before it’s vetted, because I don’t believe it’s legal,” Levasseur said. “I don’t want someone getting a ticket and then have the ACLU come in and having to defend this case without it being properly vetted by the board. It just opens us up for a lawsuit.”

Levasseur, an attorney, said he provided the board with a copy of the deed for the park penned in the 1800s which he interprets to mean that the park was turned over to the city for “public use,” and restricting that use would be a violation of the public’s right to assemble.

He said it’s not that he doesn’t support what Mayor Gatsas is trying to do; only that Gatsas went too far in posting signs without board approval.

“I  just don’t think what has been put in place will survive a constitutional case in court,” Levasseur said. “And it will mean more bad publicity for the city over a park issue.  I wish you’d support me on this, Mayor.”

Gatsas told Levasseur that while he respects his legal opinion, he’d appreciate if Levasseur would respect his opinion – which is that the ordinance already exists and he’s got a right to enforce it.

“This is not one that Ted Gatsas came up with. There are two other parks that are already posted, that say nobody is allowed in the park during school hours – Sheridan-Emmett Park on Beech Street and at Livingston Park, and neither one came from this mayor,” Gatsas said. “It was very clear we had a problem in that park. Student safety is the most important issue we can stress.”

Gatsas said he’s received  calls from parents who say they are “thrilled” to think the city is taking aggressive action to clean up the park. He also said if police go to Bronstein Park to hand out tickets on Wednesday, they should be prepared to do the same at Livingston and the Beech Street park.

“When I hear from a student who says he saw someone overdose in the park, that’s not a good thing. It’s not good for students, and that’s probably the worst publicity we can have,” Gatsas said.

After confirmation from the city solicitor that the ordinance in 1969 designates Bronstein as a school facility, Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann cited part of city ordinance 96.06 that addresses behavior in city parks.

“What’s important here is you can already be arrested for a lot of offenses, like possessing intoxicating beverages, building fires, games of chance, loitering or behaving boisterously, sleeping, lounging protractedly,” said Hirschmann, reading through the text.

“I say we start arresting all these people on drugs, get them out of the parks and away from our children,” Hirschmann said.

Levasseur asked for clarification from Gatsas on the restrictions at Livingston, which Gatsas said only applies to the track.

Chief David Mara took the microphone to confirm for the board that he advised Gatsas that without signage at the park, the ordinance was not enforceable.

Mara also commented on Hirschmann’s point, about arresting those who are loitering.

“As for lounging or sleeping for a period of time, that’s would be unconstitutional. There’s not much we can do about that. We can put people into protective custody if they are not able to care for themselves. Bottom line is, everybody has a right to be in the parks unless they are violating a rule,” Mara said. “Unless somebody is doing something wrong, there’s not much we can do about people being in the park.”

Alderman-at-Large Daniel O’neil asked what the “comprehensive plan” is for regulating the parks going forward.

“All we are doing is pushing them from one park to some place else. These citizens that are using spice or something else, we’re never going to police our way out of any issue. What’s the public health piece of this? What’s the fire department and EMS part of it?,” he said, referring to a map issued by the fire department pinpointing the number spice-related calls between Aug. 10-27.

O’Neil said he understands from conversations with police that there are Central students who go to the park during school hours, even though they shouldn’t be there.

“What is the district going to do? There has to be a comprehensive situation,” O’Neil said.

Levasseur asked Mara if he intended to enforce the ordinance starting Sept. 3. Mara declined to answer.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk about enforcement. I’m not prepared to talk about this,” Mara said, adding that he first wanted to discuss it with the city solicitor.

Levasseur reiterated his motion, to delay enforcement of the ordinance until it had been vetted by both the Committee on Lands and Buildings, which has called a special meeting for 4 p.m. Sept. 3 to discuss this issue, and then by the full board.

“We’re going to put the safety of our kids at risk for a long time, then,” Gatsas said, before calling for a vote on Levasseur’s motion, which failed.

In other business, the board was told by City Clerk Matt Normand that a draft of an ordinance that would ban the sale of spice in the city of Manchester is being looked at by the legal department, and should be ready for the Sept. 16 Board of Aldermen meeting.

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