July 6, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: The ghost of Mabel
By†Jeff Rapsis

One reason Iím proud to be from Nashua is that the Gate City, for all its faults, isnít nearly as loopy as Manchester sometimes is.

Thatís a broad statement to make, but Iím in a broad state of mind. And whatís on my mind specifically is a recent proposal in Manchester to restrict the distribution of newspapers in the cityís downtown area.

So here we are, on the week Independence Day is celebrated, pondering government regulations that would dilute the constitutionally protected right to publish and distribute Hippo and all other papers.

Contrast that with the approach in Nashua. Not only has Hippo been welcomed into the city, but downtown news boxes are encouraged as something that makes the community more interesting.

Recently, the Nashua Telegraph set up a program with Great American Downtown so that many of their downtown news boxes would be redesigned by artists so as to be turned into pieces of outdoor sculpture. Itís a fun idea that I wish we had thought of first.

People in Nashua, from City Hall to the City Room, seem to get that the presence of newspapers and publications in an urban area donít detract, but add vibrancy.

Thatís not the case in Manchester, where a handful of city officials are taking it upon themselves to restrict the ability to publish.

Already USA Today has said they oppose the move, as do we. Itíll be an interesting battle that I look forward to fighting, even if we have to go to court.

Speaking of court, what to make of last weekís closure of the Chandler Library?

My opinion on the closure hasnít changed. The facility wasnít being used in a cost-effective manner. In a tight budget year where the library department had to look carefully at everything, closing the Chandler was the right thing to do.

But Iíve changed my mind about the building itself. Earlier, I wrote that selling it and using the proceeds to expand the Court Street facility was a good idea. That opinion was based in part on a conversation with Arthur Barrett, chairman of the libraryís board of trustees, in which I was left with the impression theyíd made a reasonable effort to contact the heirs of Mabel Chandler.

I always thought her will stated clearly that if the building couldnít be used as a library, it would revert back to her estate. I thought thatís why the building remained as it was all these years, in a kind of limbo, even when it clearly wasnít heavily used.

Barrett assured me the library could indeed sell the property, so that was that. But that was before the Chandlerís heirs began chiming in on the issue.

To my knowledge, every person connected with Chandler, from near or far, has excoriated the attempt to sell the property, which they say clearly violates the terms of her gift to the city.

Life goes on, itís true, but the dead canít argue their cases. In that sense, we must be extra careful in our duty to act as stewards of their wishes.

So now my opinion is that the trustees should not even begin to think about selling that property until itís absolutely crystal clear that itís what Chandler wanted. If it isnít, and it canít be used as a library, then the trustees should turn it back to the estate. End of story.

Otherwise, weíll have the ghost of Mabel to answer to.


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