Richard H. Girard denied the charge made by Manchester Ward 11 School Board Committee Member Katie Desrochers that he had asked Dyn CEO Jeremy Hitchcock to withdraw the cloud-based Internet performance company’s funding of West High School’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) program. First elected to the Board of the School Committee (BOSC) as an at-large member in November 2015, Girard has consistently played a gadfly during his short tenure on the BOSC, publicly praising himself on his own Girard at Large radio program for his tough questioning of Manchester School District (MSD) Superintendent Dr. Debra Livingston.
Some sources questioned whether the motive behind the special meeting of the BOSC, in which public comment was not allowed, was to embarrass Superintendent Livingston. It was felt that Livingston did not acquit herself well before the Committee. BOSC Vice Chair Arthur Beaudry was irritated that Livingston had said that the MSD would not provide its redistricting plan to the Board for the special meeting, then provided the plan on short notice.
The charge made by Desrochers against Girard came during a discussion of Girard’s plan to redistrict the city’s schools by moving around students between West High School and middle schools on the Queen City’s west side. Girard’s plan was denounced by Ward 10 School Committee Member John Avard, who has criticized Girard in the past on social media.
Avard was incensed that experiements seemingly were always done on Manchester’s west side. He said that if the program of realigning classses among schools were to be implemented, it should be done city-wide. Girard agreed but said it was more practical to implement the program on the west side, due to the low student population of West High.
MSD Superintendent Debra Livingston had led off the special meeting of the BOSC with the MSD’s own redistricting plan, before the Committee turned to Girard’s plan. After Girard finished his own presentation with the vocal encouragement of the Mayor Ted Gatsas, who serves as BOSC Chair, to get to the end of it. (“You have one more minute,” the Mayor said, though he gave Girard more time to wrap up.) Desrochers took the floor. She objected to Girard’s attempt to answer questions from his seat on the Committee as she and others discussed his plan.
Girard continued to speak as a committee member, and Desrochers stated that Hitchcock had told her of Girard’s request to stop funding STEAM, which had come in a letter to the Dyn co-founder and CEO from Girard. The charge got a visible reaction from Mayor Gatsas, who is a strong supporter of the STEAM program. Girard denied that he had made such a request in his letter to Hitchcock, whose support of STEAM was a factor behind the program’s success. He said that he had two children in the STEAM program at West High, his alma mater.
As Girard continued to talk about his plan, Mayor Gatsas became increasingly irritated. Avard criticized Girard’s constant reference to the late Tom Brennan, the long-serving former MSD Administrator, in support of his redistricting plan. Brennan died of cancer in April 2014.
Avard said that Girard’s plan was an attack on the value of middle schools, which had been a major innovation of Brennan. Girard cited a radio interview with Brennan as evidence that the late MSD administrator would support his plan, which was based on a 2007 redistricting plan long ignored by the BOSC.
Mayor Gatsas joined in on criticizing Girard’s constant referencing of Brennan when Girard mentioned a Brennan comment on the “STEM” program. “Tom Brennan would never have used the word STEM,” Gatsas said, “he always said STEAM.”
“He did in this interview,” Girard said. The radio host likely was refering to an interview Brennan gave on Girard at Large in November 2013, six months before the former superintendent’s death.
As Gatsas attmepted to steer the special meeting to a conclusion, Girard attempted to keep it alive. After Gatsas refused Girard’s request to table his plan so that it would be open to debate when the redistricting issue was next taken up by the BOSC, Gatsas cuttingly said that he would ensure that Girard’s plan was considered in the future. Girard then asked that the competing plans from the MSD and himself be put up on the BOSC website (There was no mention of the online posting of Ward 12 Committee Member Connie Van Houten’s redistricting plan that had been presented to the BOSC in 2015 that Van Houten had mentioned earlier in the meeting.)
Girard continued to attempt to dominate the meeting down to the closing minutes, when he tried to dictate to BOSC Clerk Maura Leahy how to properly make an online presentation of the competing plans, with real-time comments from Commitee members and the public, so that it doesn’t become an online meeting that triggers the state’s Right to Know (RTK) law. Girard’s attempted tutoring of Leahy was bizarre in that he presents himself as a champion of the RTK law. It was doubly bizarre as Mayor Gatsas had said that it was OK for the posting to be considered an online meeting of BOSC members and be covered by the RTK law as the Committee had nothing to hide. By that time, Gatsas had already passed the point of exasperation into open hostility.
A source close to the School Board who served in city government since the time Girard was assistant to former Mayor Ray Wieczorek says that Mayor Gatsas is learning who Rich Girard the politician really is. “The Wiz wouldn’t stand up for Girard,” the source said, “and now Gatsas is going to find out for himself why he’s called ‘Stinky’.”
Richard H. Girard served one term on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, in the newly created position of Alderman-at-Large, from 1997-99. Ted Gatsas was first elected to BOMA as alderman from Ward 2 in 1999.
Girard had irritated BOMA members when he had served as Wieczorek’s special assistant for a short time in the 1990s. The Board voted to eliminate Girard’s position from the city budget, effectively firing him. Mayor Wieczorek raised no objection to BOMA members behind closed doors, and Girard went on to a career in peddling insurance and, later, as a host of his Girard at Large radio program.
Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann told this reporter in 2013 that it was during the period that Girard served as assistant to Mayor Wieczorek that he got his nickname “Stinky” as people were loathe to deal with him. The nickname was intended to portray the impression he gave people of being a spoiled brat.
Commenting on how Girard was eliminated from the Wieczorek administration, the source close to the School Board said, “If The Wiz had liked Stinky, he would not have let the aldermen take the position out of the city budget. The fact is, The Wiz had no respect for him. And the longer Gatsas serves on the School Board with him, the less respect he’ll have for Stinky.”
When asked whether Desrochers’ insinuation that Rich Girard was a double-dealer and disingenuous had any validity, the source commented, “I can’t remember when he wasn’t”