Ted Siefer's City Hall: It was a week of spice, bed bugs, abandoned buildings, gambling
Hirschmann launched a crusade against the devices after it was revealed earlier in the summer that a West Side pizza shop that was the target of drug bust had apparently relied on the machines for revenue far more than fresh slices.
The amendments had two main components. One would raise the current $2,000 annual permit fee by $500, with the additional revenue going to a special account to support the investigative work required to prove a poker machine is being used for gambling. The other would require criminal background checks for permit seekers.
It's safe to say most of the aldermen haven't been too receptive to the several ideas put forward by Hirschmann, one of the board's two Republicans, since he rejoined the board this year. But his ordinance had a good hearing, even if the committee's chairman, Alderman Joyce Craig, was skeptical.
And, as Police Chief David Mara pointed out, any additional money from the permit fees probably wouldn't be sufficient to reassign detectives to the gambling beat. "With undercover officers, there's a more vexing problem facing the city, and that's drugs," he said.
"Back in the '90s, it was a sit-down single device that you might see in a casino," he said. "Now they've evolved. They have flat screens, they can be on the bar tops, and can have multiple games. This has really complicated the law enforcement."
Still, Craig said that she didn't think this would "curtail bad behavior."
"All of this crime is interconnected," he said. "We can't just worry about spice ... It has to be a multi-pronged approach."
No free lunch
If the magnitude of the permit fee for poker machines is eyebrow raising, the same could be said for the paltriness of another fee mentioned in passing by Normand on Tuesday.
Given the host of fee increase the aldermen have signed off on recently in their quest for new revenue - and the growing enthusiasm for al fresco dining in the city - it's surprising this one got overlooked.
On the bugs
City officials are in the process of beefing up the ordinance concerning bed bugs and other pests, thanks to the efforts of Alderman Pat Long, who has been at the forefront of this particular scourge in the city and at the State House.
One of the main changes is to make owners responsible for responding to reports of the insects promptly and thoroughly. The ordinance had a brief debut in committee last week, but Long requested it be tabled so he could make more changes.
Child and Family Services wants to hold a mass camp-out in downtown Manchester - and what's more surprising is the mayor supports the idea.
The "sleep out" would take place at Stanton Plaza in front of the Radisson on March 20 - not exactly peak camping season. The idea is to raise awareness and money to combat youth homelessness. In a letter to the mayor and aldermen, the director of the organization notes that similar events have been held in New York and Burlington, Vt. Of course, culturally speaking, those places aren't Manchester. And Mayor Ted Gatsas, as his actions around Bronstein Park and his opposition to a breakfast in the park program might indicate, isn't a fan of people hanging around parks at all hours.
Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.
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