Hello fellow Berlinites. In November of 1978, there were about 230 parking meters in downtown Berlin. Local citizens had backed into them with their cars, bumped into them with their bodies and devoted much of their shopping efforts to keeping them well fed with coins.
Now, in late 1978, the Downtown Revitalization Committee was fighting to get them removed, if they got the approval of the City Council. Committee members voted to recommend removal of the meters at a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 1978. They had directed Jeff Taylor of the development staff to meet with the Chamber of Commerce and downtown merchants to gain more support.
Other recommendations were made by the members of the community development department. One was for a two-level parking deck on the site of the old Buber Block on Main Street, between the Princess Theater and Smith and Town. This would provide additional 60 off-street parking spaces and be a supplement for the projected hotel-motel-restaurant complex that was going to be built at the southern end of Green Square. Of course, the complex did not happen.
Also endorsed was the closing of Bickford Lane to car traffic, which was one away from Main to Pleasant Street. Everything that was recommended was done to give downtown Berlin an entirely new look.
Just under one month later, the headlines read “Meter Fees Suspended.” People could put away their pennies and nickels, because, effective immediately all parking meter fees in Berlin were temporarily canceled.
The police department was advised by the city council not to collect parking meter fees and to dispense with enforcing the parking meter laws until Feb. 12, 1979. This decision came in response to a request by the city’s downtown merchants for removal of the parking meters. Sixty-three of the 70 merchants polled voted in favor of their removal.
The merchant’s arguments were that: 1. They were unattractive. 2. Some did not work. 3. It would be easier to plow sidewalks and streets without them. 4. The revenue from the meters was negligible. 5. It would give the merchants a more competitive position with nearby shopping centers. 6. They did not contribute to the turnover of traffic.
The final decision and not been made at this time, and the city council opted for a two-month trial period to determine whether or not the downtown merchants' claims were valid.
By Nov. 22, 1978, forensic experts and state police were still trying to find out the identity of the skeleton found in Pinkham Notch during September. State police officer Robert Lovin said that his department did not have much to go on. About all that they had determined was that the skeleton was definitely that of a male in his early to mid 20s.
From the condition of the bones, forensic experts believed that the skeleton had been in the notch since 1972. Experts were unable to determine the cause of the death either. Lovin said that the department had one missing person report from out of state and that they had to check it out. If this account fell through, the department would then be releasing information to the public, in hopes that someone could provide a clue to the skeleton’s identity.
The skeleton was found on the “Square Ledge Trail” in Pinkham Notch by two hikers. After reporting it to the Appalachian Mountain Club, the state police took over the job of finding its identity. The remains were taken to Concord and later transferred to a Boston lab.
Listed in the local papers on Dec. 6, 1978 was a short story of one of the city’s great heroes, Michael Durant, who was shot down in a helicopter while fighting in Somalia in the early 1990s. After six days of being a POW, Michael was released by the warlords. The book "Black Hawk Down" was written about the incident by journalist Mark Bowdin.
In the paper was a picture of Durant that said “Delayed entry enlistment” and that he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Leon Durant of 400 Madison Ave. in Berlin and had enlisted in the U.S. Army under the delayed entry program.
Mike, who was a senior at Berlin High School, graduated in 1979 and left for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri on Aug. 30 of that same year. After basic training, Durant was going to report to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., where he would receive training as an electronic warfare signal intelligence interceptor.
He was then to report to the Goodfellow AFB in San Antonio, Texas, where he would receive his skills training and ultimately be assigned to an electronic warfare cryptology unit. Mike’s status must have changed during his Army career, as he was the pilot of a Black Hawk helicopter that was shot down and survived the crash and the beatings that he received at hands of his Somalian captives.
Mike is the nephew of my great friend Sam Paquette, who passed away in June of 2015. Mr. Durant’s story made the headlines of all the major newspapers, television networks and magazines in this country. He finally did return to Berlin for a great hero's welcome.
Finally, for this week’s story of 1978, City Manager James Smith put in his resignation. After five years of service to the community of Berlin, Smith felt that he no longer had the support of the city council necessary to effectively pursue this city’s business.
He could, therefore, see no other alternative than to resign the position of city manager of the city of Berlin. His resignation became effect of on Dec. 31, 1978.
His resignation and its reasons for this, were presented in a three-page letter to the city council on Monday night Nov. 13, 1978. Smith’s major contention was that the city council members had lost sight of the overall objectives of the city’s revitalization and development projects.
Rather than looking at the overall picture, Smith claimed that the council had bogged down in the details of the smaller projects that made up larger and more important revitalization programs.
He referred to the lengthy debate on the location of today’s (2017) James Cleveland Bridge as an example. He also said that if the city spent as much time on other projects as it did on this bridge, it would never see the completion of the revitalization effort.
Mr. Smith went on and on about the failure that he had with the City Council and after the work session, summed up his feelings about his resignation. “I am happy with where we have gone, but not so much where we are going.” He truly wished Berlin well.
With this resignation, Community Development Director Michael Donovan became Berlin’s newest city manager on Jan. 1, 1979.