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Paul Feely's City Hall: School district, former superintendent settle lawsuit over $590 bill

October 27. 2018 11:03PM
Former Manchester school superintendent Debra Livingston 

A lawsuit brought against the school district by former superintendent of schools Debra Livingston has been settled at no cost to the district.

Livingston sued the school district in 2017 for $590.50 after school board members and her successor, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas, wouldn't pay her for 5.5 hours of work for an arbitration case after she left the district, according to public records.

Livingston, who retired in October 2016, filed her complaint in small claims court after the school board refused to pay for her time, according to court documents.

"At no time was I informed by you that you would request unpaid service after my retirement," Livingston wrote the school board on June 21, 2017. "I simply responded to a reasonable request for service for which I expect reasonable compensation."

On Aug. 14, 2017, the school board agreed "to pay meals and mileage to Dr. Livingston in accordance with school district policies and procedures," according to minutes of that meeting.

Livingston, however, didn't claim meals or mileage, but wanted to be paid for 5.5 hours at a rate of $91 an hour, according to an invoice. Her court complaint also sought reimbursement for the $90 filing fee.

Alderman At-Large and attorney Joseph Kelly Levasseur offered to represent the district "free of charge" in the lawsuit.

"Former superintendent Livingston worked tirelessly to try and get $590 out of the school district for 'expert witness' pay to testify at a grievance hearing about a decision she made concerning the termination of an employee," Levasseur said. "An attorney for the school district respectfully told her he could not pay her as an expert. She didn't like the answer, then brought suit against the district. After realizing I was never going to give in to her ridiculous demand and finally realizing her pathetic attempt to hold the district hostage was futile, she quit the lawsuit before embarrassing herself further at trial."

Levasseur thanked school board members for letting him represent the district.

"I got the result any lawyer would have gotten but at no expense to the district," Levasseur said. "In my opinion, if she had worked as hard for the school distinct as she did for that $590, our district would be No. 1 in the world."

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City aldermen have tabled a request from Elm Grove Companies to lease air rights on Stark Street for the firm's development at 922 Elm St., the former Ted Herbert's building.

In a letter to city aldermen, Kir Harris of Elm Grove Companies writes that as part of his company's redevelopment of the property - which includes 30 planned apartments - the firm is required to install a post indicator valve (PIV) for fire safety.

PIVs are those red wheel valves you may have noticed protruding from buildings throughout the city. In this case, the PIV would extend roughly 15 inches off the side of the exterior of the building at 922 Elm St. Plans show the PIV encroaching on city property - namely, a busy sidewalk.

As a result, Elm Grove is requesting a roughly 2 x 4-foot air rights lease to accommodate the protrusion of the valve.

"Our fire protection contractor originally submitted plans to the city showing this valve in the one alcove we have at the main entry of the building," Harris wrote. "While that location was approved by the building department, the contractor did not realize it is not a feasible location for the PIV."

According to Harris, the alcove exists to accommodate the swing of the main egress doors of the building, so when they open they don't protrude into the sidewalk on Elm Street.

"If the PIV valve was located there, the front doors would smash into the PIV when they swing open," Harris wrote. "More importantly, however, the open doors would prevent access to the PIV. In the event of an emergency, we would not want the fire department to be forced to choose between allowing residents to safely egress the building or have access the PIV."

According to Harris, the company's fire protection contractor realized the problem and moved the valve to the Stark Street side of the property, but submitted new plans for approval.

"We were notified of this encroachment and have explored all other possible options to correct it," Harris wrote. "Due to the zero lot line, we do not see a viable alternative to requesting this air rights lease for this location. It is also important to note that many of the other buildings in this area of Manchester have PIVs that encroach into the public right of way. Given how common this is, we hope our request is reasonable."

The request was tabled after city officials expressed concern over the proposed location of the PIV.

"The nature of our concerns relate to the precedent it would set to allow such encroachments," city planner Leon LaFreniere said. "Our primary concern is it does represent in its current configuration a hazard to pedestrians as well as snow removal activity."

LeFreniere suggested if the board is inclined to approve the request, bollards, or sturdy vertical posts, be installed on either side of the PIV.

The issue was tabled to allow city officials to work with the applicant on where to place the PIV.

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Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig is inviting trick-or-treaters downtown for the "Halloween at City Hall" event on Wednesday from 3-5 p.m. Students, parents and children are invited to come to City Hall to pick out a free book from the school district's Bookmobile, meet Craig and show off their costumes.

No word yet on whether the mayor and her staff will be in costume.

"My plan is for an all-office group costume, but we'll see how it goes," said Lauren Smith, policy and strategic outreach director for the mayor.

"It should be a fun event for kids," Craig said.

The event is scheduled to take place in the plaza outside City Hall, but in case of poor weather it will be moved inside to the aldermanic chambers on the third floor.

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Craig has added two more stops on her community "Office Hours" tour. The updated schedule now includes the following dates: Saturday, Nov. 3, 10 a.m., with Library Director Denise van Zanten at the city library, 405 Pine St.

Monday, Nov. 5, 5:30 p.m., with Health Director Anna Thomas at the health department, 1528 Elm St.

Thursday, Nov. 8, 5:30 p.m., with Parking Manager Denise Boutilier and Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines at Palace Theatre Spotlight Room, 96 Hanover St.

Saturday, Nov. 24, 10-11 a.m., at Bookery, 844 Elm St., "Coffee with the Mayor" for Small Business Saturday.

Wed. Nov. 28, 5:30-6:30 p.m., at Bookery, 844 Elm St., with city tax collector Brenda Masewic Adams.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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