June 29, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Donít hold your breath
By†Jody Reese

Whatís more important to your tax bill?

Personal cell phone calls made by administrators that cost the Manchester School District nothing? Or a new city public works facility that will cost $20 million?

Hard to say, judging by the kind of discussions that take place here in the Queen City.

A couple of months ago, the use of cell phones by school administrators generated screaming headlines, comments from the Mayorís office, and more. But plans for the new headquarters for the cityís Public Works Department have so far generated not a peep.

It makes you wonder just how balanced the debate on local issues really is. If we truly want effective local government at an affordable price, are we paying attention to the right things?

Take a closer look at the cell phone issue, and youíll find some clues as to why such distractions receive so much attention, while a $20 million city project goes undiscussed.

For some time, the Manchester School District had assigned cell phones to a total of 63 employees to help them do their jobs more effectively. And where there are cell phones, there are calling records.

And those calling records were obtained by local gadfly and activist Joe Kelly Levasseur, who last March provided them to our friends at the Union Leader for a look-see.

The result? Horrors! Personal calls were being made on the school districtís dime!

For a week or so, the paper banged away on the issue. To make their point, the editors singled out McDonough School Principal Ken DiBenedetto as chief cell phone scofflaw, dragging him through the mud over his number of personal calls.

It wasnít long before newly elected Mayor-Elect Frank Guinta, as if on cue, weighed in, recommending that school district cell phones be done away with. School officials finally just decided to do just that, if only to eliminate what had become a pointless distraction.

And in all the debate, it didnít seem to matter that the districtís call plan was structured so that personal calls didnít cost anything extra. It didnít matter than DiBenedetto and other administrators often found cell phones essential to their jobs due to the sometimes antiquated phone system in many district buildings.

Noóclearly, the Union Leader decided to make hay out of this non-issue to further its own political agenda, which has historically been anti-public education. It didnít seem to matter that the cell phone usage didnít cost anyone an extra dime, nor that competent and dedicated school administrators were slandered in the process.

And then a project like the planned $20 million new Public Works Department headquarters comes along, and so far the discussion has been non-existent.

I donít know about you, but $20 million is a lot of cash to me. The Public Works Department may very well need a new headquarters, but shouldnít we discuss it a little more? The mayor has gone on record supporting it in principle. Why? Shouldnít we have a discussion thatís at least as detailed as the cell phone debate was?

Unless Joe Kelly Levasseur provides some dirt to the Union Leader on it, donít hold your breath..


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