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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

PR specialist hired for Nashua branding project

NASHUA – A public relations specialist with experience directing communications for Southern New Hampshire Health System and the Manchester school district is among the list of consultants who were hired to work on Nashua’s branding project.

Documents available on the city’s website indicate Andrea Alley, doing business as Alleyoop Strategies, was paid $4,000 to write the text that appears on Nashua’s new economic development website, nashuadares.com. ...

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NASHUA – A public relations specialist with experience directing communications for Southern New Hampshire Health System and the Manchester school district is among the list of consultants who were hired to work on Nashua’s branding project.

Documents available on the city’s website indicate Andrea Alley, doing business as Alleyoop Strategies, was paid $4,000 to write the text that appears on Nashua’s new economic development website, nashuadares.com.

Although Alley began working for the city in the fall, her name wasn’t mentioned during an extensive discussion between Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and the Board of Aldermen about the branding project in February.

Her participation came as a surprise to several city officials who were contacted by The Telegraph on Monday. Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said he had never heard of Alleyoop Strategies.

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” he said.

Alderman-at-Large Diane Sheehan also drew a blank. Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess said he had the impression only a pair of companies worked on the
project – one in Tennessee and a firm based in Nashua.

City regulations don’t require the mayor or city staff to notify the Board of Aldermen when a contract valued at less than $10,000 is issued.

However, Donchess said he had hoped to be apprised of all pertinent information about the branding initiative.

“The fact is this is a very high-profile project about which there have been a lot of questions,” he said.

Some board members voiced frustration earlier this year about changes to a pair of contracts for the branding project. The contracts were originally approved by the Board of Aldermen in early 2012.

Last year, while the city’s new brand was still in development, one of the contracts was terminated, and work that was left over 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.

The change saved $8,500 for the city and the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, which partnered to fund the $105,000 project.

However, the process rankled some aldermen, who pointed out that contract revisions weren’t written down on paper until months after the work began, and that substantive changes to the contracts weren’t brought to the attention of the board.

Alley started work on Nashua’s new economic development website sometime in October or November, long before the issue came to light.

Contract documents state that she was hired to perform services for “Phase II of the community branding process.”

Economic Development Director Galligani said Monday that the $4,000 contract didn’t come up during the extensive discussion about the branding project held by the Board of Aldermen on Feb. 11 because the meeting was focused narrowly on the two contracts that were changed.

Creating content for the Web page was considered as separate from designing the website, which was funded through money allocated for the branding initiative, Galligani said.

Alley’s contract was funded using separate grant money and other sources in the budget.

Galligani noted that the Chamber of Commerce also used separate funds to generate content for its own website, which also was created through the branding initiative.

Lozeau said Monday she didn’t recall the circumstances regarding Alley’s services and would have mentioned the contract during the February meeting if it occurred to her at the time.

“This idea that every single contract that’s signed for any amount is something that’s announced at a Board of Aldermen meeting, or discussed with the Board of Aldermen, it’s just not realistic,” she said. “And it isn’t because somebody’s trying to hide something.”

Although he wasn’t previously aware of the copy writing contract, McCarthy said it was little cause for concern. He noted that aldermen allocated money in the budget for the economic development office to fund promotional work.

“What I care about with regard to the contract is that the work gets done and that it gets done well, and in an economically expedient manner for the citizens,” he said.

Sheehan concurred, saying the end product is paramount. While it’s important to understand city spending, Sheehan warned that scrutinizing a $4,000 contract is akin to “witch hunting after the fact.”

But Donchess said he feels the Finance Committee and the public are still left in the dark about some city decisions.

“Would I like to know that there’s a PR consultant working for the economic development office? Yeah, I would,” he said.

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