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Friday, June 6, 2014

Nashua mayor rejects public disclosure ordinance

NASHUA – Mayor Donnalee Lozeau vetoed legislation this week requiring her to notify the Board of Aldermen when she changes city contracts, arguing that the mayor doesn’t need a mandate from the board to disclose that information.

Lozeau rejected a measure passed by the Board of Aldermen on May 27 that calls for her to inform the Finance Committee within 10 days if she, or her successor, alters contracts that already have been approved. ...

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NASHUA – Mayor Donnalee Lozeau vetoed legislation this week requiring her to notify the Board of Aldermen when she changes city contracts, arguing that the mayor doesn’t need a mandate from the board to disclose that information.

Lozeau rejected a measure passed by the Board of Aldermen on May 27 that calls for her to inform the Finance Committee within 10 days if she, or her successor, alters contracts that already have been approved.

In a letter explaining her decision, Lozeau argued that she can work cooperatively with the board to achieve public disclosure and doesn’t need a requirement enshrined by city ordinances.

“I do not believe that it is necessary to legislate the exchange of information between the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Aldermen,” Lozeau wrote.

The exchange of information between the board and Lozeau’s administration has been a subject of concern among some aldermen, who have accused the mayor of limiting access to city staff and filtering communications through her office.

The issue of contract changes came into focus in January when city officials learned that a pair of contracts for Nashua’s branding initiative were changed with little notice to the public.

One contract was terminated, and work that originally was scheduled to be performed by a Tennessee branding company was transferred to a Nashua-based firm. Payments to the local company increased by $9,500, just below the threshold that would have required disclosure to the Finance Committee.

In response, Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess sponsored legislation requiring the mayor to inform the Finance Committee about changes to contracts after she takes action.

Existing rules only require the mayor to consult the Finance Committee if changes would increase the price tag for a contract by $10,000 or more.

“This is an open government, transparency reform in the Nashua revised ordinances,” Donchess said in May.

Board members were split on his proposal, eventually passing it 8-7. Donchess picked up support from fellow Aldermen-at-Large David Deane, Lori Wilshire and Dan Moriarty.

Also voting in favor were Ward 1 Alderman Sean McGuinness, Ward 3 Alderman David Schoneman, Ward 5 Alderman Michael Soucy and Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel.

Voting against the ordinance were Aldermen-at-Large Brian McCarthy and Diane Sheehan, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Dowd, Ward 4 Alderman Pam Brown, Ward 6 Alderman Paul Chasse, Ward 7 Alderman June Caron and Ward 8 Alderman Mary Ann Melizzi-Golja.

In her veto letter, Lozeau wrote that she strives to maintain transparency without compromising good business practices. She pointed out that several years ago, she instructed the city clerk’s office to begin posting copies of contracts on the city’s website.

Lozeau wrote that she believes “substantial” contract changes should be disclosed to the aldermen, and that she has asked city staff to find a “reasonable and effective way” to post information about such changes.

The Board of Aldermen is expected to take up the mayor’s veto for a potential override vote at its meeting Tuesday night at City Hall. Overcoming a mayoral veto requires support from at least 10 members of the 15-member board.

Donchess said Thursday that he can’t predict the outcome of an override vote. He stressed that his legislation is aimed at increasing transparency in city government.

“I think the public – citizens and the Board of Aldermen – have a right to know regarding city finances and city contracts, and this ordinance does not change in any way the mayor’s authority to alter approved contracts,” he said. “It simply requires when a change is made that that be disclosed to the public.”

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