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Friday, August 23, 2013

Nashua public works crews had an appetite for more than just sausage, eating $5,200 worth of food around city

NASHUA – Although public works employees managed to rack up a tab of nearly $1,500 at The Sausage King of Nashua last year, city records show they had an appetite for more than just sausages.

During fiscal 2013, Streets Department employees at the Division of Public Works ate their way through $5,285.44 worth of taxpayer-funded meals, according to records obtained by The Telegraph on Thursday. ...

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NASHUA – Although public works employees managed to rack up a tab of nearly $1,500 at The Sausage King of Nashua last year, city records show they had an appetite for more than just sausages.

During fiscal 2013, Streets Department employees at the Division of Public Works ate their way through $5,285.44 worth of taxpayer-funded meals, according to records obtained by The Telegraph on Thursday.

That number far exceeds the amount set aside by the city’s aldermen for street department workers to eat meals on the city dime. During the budget process last year, Nashua aldermen approved a line item of only $1,200 for meals.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said she thinks most taxpayers would understand providing food for plow drivers in the case of a storm that stretches on for three or four days. But funding regular meals for workers on Main Street is “a problem.”

But she took issue with the characterization of expenses totaling more than $5,200 as being over budget. She said the Streets Department’s line item for meals is part of a broader budget category that includes all materials, and that category was not exceeded.

“It was a snowy winter … so I would anticipate that we would spend more during the winter this year because of the number of storms that we had that stretched into more than a single day,” Lozeau said.

Records show DPW crews ate their way around the city last year, patronizing at least five different restaurants.

Some of the food was purchased during the winter months, which seems to fall in line with the purpose for which aldermen budgeted the money – feeding plow drivers during shifts that drag on for days.

During the heavy snowstorm in March that became known as “Nemo,” for example, workers ate $390 worth of subs from the Nashua House of Pizza. The money was paid with a credit card, and approved by Chief Financial Officer John Griffin.

But some other charges came at various times throughout the year. For example, nine separate charges were made to reimburse workers who purchased meals with petty cash. Some occurred in the summer of 2012 and the spring of 2013.

TJ’s Deli & Catering exceeded even The Sausage King in expenses and was the biggest beneficiary of the DPW’s patronage, earning a combined $1,510.60 during the last fiscal year, spread across four separate purchases. By comparison, workers made 38 separate purchases at The Sausage King for $1,478.30.

Norton’s Classic Cafe, an eatery at 233 Main St., next to City Hall, provided an additional $1,137.40 worth of food. Norton’s also received four separate orders from the DPW, including a single purchase in February that rang up at $800.

Taxpayer-funded meals have been under scrutiny this week after a Right-to-Know request from The Telegraph revealed that workers engaged in the Main Street sidewalk rebuilding project were given carte blanche to order food from The Sausage King of Nashua.

In response, Lozeau called a non-public session of the Board of Public Works on Tuesday to discuss what she referred to as a “personnel issue” involving a poor judgment by a single employee.

Lozeau said the purchases from The Sausage King were the “only incident that we’re aware of like this.”

City records indicate former DPW Street Department Superintendent Roy Sorenson signed off on the purchase authorizations for The Sausage King.

Managers, such as Sorenson, are authorized to make purchases of up to $10,000 without higher administrative approval.

However, the manner by which Sorenson conducted business with The Sausage King flies in the face of the city’s normal procedure, according to Treasurer David Fredette. He said Sorenson effectively established an open-ended tab with the restaurant – something that Fredette said would never have been sanctioned by his office.

“If it would have been requested, it would have been denied,” Fredette said.

Sausage King owner Dave Manganello said Sorenson approached him to propose the idea of providing food to the laborers on Main Street. Manganello said he was required to fill out paperwork at City Hall to become an “approved vendor.”

Sorenson left his job in Nashua earlier this year to take over as director of public works in Bedford, Mass. He did not respond to an email or a telephone call seeking comment this week.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_ JimH).