MANCHESTER, N.H. – On two separate votes, the Manchester Board of Aldermen could not escape a deadlock on whether to re-open certain city facilities on July 1, with Mayor Joyce Craig casting tie-breaking votes to quash both requests.
The first motion, made by At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur, requested that the city’s pools, the Dupont Splash Pad, the city’s basketball courts and the city’s playgrounds be re-opened to help families and their children looking to escape the house this summer.
After the first motion was defeated, Ward 8 Alderman Michael Porter moved to re-open the splash pad on July 1, echoing Levasseur’s sentiments.
Levasseur felt it was appropriate to re-open these facilities given the gradual re-opening of outdoor seating at restaurants and the protest at Stark Park occurring at the same time as the meeting drawing approximately 500 people.
Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy was one of the aldermen to support the proposals, fearing unintended consequences if activities are not provided for the city’s children during the summer months.
“This city had better figure out what to do with the youth, there is nothing for them to do this summer,” he said. “If we don’t find things for them to do, they will be hanging around the street corners and doing things we don’t want them to do.”
The mayor and aldermen on both sides of the argument did not like continuing the closure of the pools and other recreational areas, those in opposition of Levasseur’s motion cited safety concerns and data showing that the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed yet in the city.
Additionally, when the pandemic began, Craig expanded a hiring freeze on new city employees, even if lifted would require rapid training on proper safety protocols relating to COVID-19.
Health Department Director Anna Thomas opposed both ideas, stating that the proposals would go against state COVID-19 recommendations. Earlier in the meeting during an update on the pandemic, Thomas said that pools could theoretically be opened using social distancing guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control on pools, but still advised against this due to the difficulty of implementing those guidelines.
She also fought back against those stating that people should be left to make their own decisions, stating that often decisions are made for people against their will by people infected with the disease spreading it, many of whom are unaware that they are infected.
In both votes, Levasseur, Porter and Roy were joined by Ward 6 Alderman Elizabeth Moreau, Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio, Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw and Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann in supporting re-opening the facilities.
Opposition came on both motions from Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh, Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza, Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry, Ward 11 Alderman Normand Gamache and At-Large Alderman Dan O’Neil. Sapienza and Barry added that they opposed “with regret” on the first motion.
Levasseur also challenged Craig during the end of the pandemic update in a heated exchange, claiming that Craig was making bad decisions regarding the city’s reaction to the pandemic while Craig responded that she was making decisions based on data.
This exchange lead to a motion to move onto the next agenda item, which Moreau said prevented her from asking a question to Thomas. During new business, she voiced her frustration and said she email her questions to Thomas later.
During the presentation, the aldermen heard from Thomas as well as the respective leaders of Catholic Medical Center and Elliot Health Services: Dr. Joseph Pepe and Dr. Gregory Baxter, respectively.
Both men felt that a never-ending quarantine would not be helpful in ending the pandemic, but a gradual re-opening is required to prevent a new spike in COVID-19 cases.
“We’re not saying we should close everything and we’re not saying we should open everything,” said Pepe. “We’re just saying that we have to be careful as we go along because people are dying.”