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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nashua aldermen pass disclosure ordinance over mayor’s veto

NASHUA – Aldermen voted Tuesday to override a veto from Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, passing an ordinance that requires the mayor to notify the board when changes are made to existing city contracts.

The override passed 11-4, with three aldermen who previously rejected the public disclosure ordinance instead choosing to put it into practice. ...

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NASHUA – Aldermen voted Tuesday to override a veto from Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, passing an ordinance that requires the mayor to notify the board when changes are made to existing city contracts.

The override passed 11-4, with three aldermen who previously rejected the public disclosure ordinance instead choosing to put it into practice.

“We have a responsibility to the public,” said Ward 3 Alderman David Schoneman, one of the co-sponsors of the measure. “The public wants to know what’s happening.”

The legislation calls for the mayor to inform the Finance Committee within 10 days if she, or her successor, alters contracts that already have been approved by the aldermanic Finance Committee.

The measure passed by a single vote May 27 but was vetoed last week by Lozeau, who argued that it is unnecessary to legislate the exchange of information between the mayor’s office and the Board of Aldermen.

Lozeau reiterated that argument Tuesday, telling board members that she is working with city staff on techniques to disseminate information about contract changes in the future.

Lozeau said it would reflect poorly on the city’s image to pass an ordinance asking for more communication from the mayor.

“I do think we’re going to come up with a way to notify you, and I think it’s important to be able to do that,” she said.

She suggested tabling the ordinance, which was drafted earlier this year by Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess after concerns were raised about contracts for the city’s branding initiative.

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

That threshold gave the mayor the flexibility to change the terms of a contract or make minor modifications without notifying aldermen.

Donchess has called the legislation passed Tuesday an open-government, transparency reform to the city’s ordinances.

“All this ordinance says is if the mayor decides for whatever reason to amend a contract, that the mayor inform the Finance Committee about it – that that amendment has been made,” Donchess said.

Ten votes from the 15-member board were necessary in order to sustain the override.

Ward 6 Alderman Paul Chasse previously voted against the measure but supported the override attempt. While he holds the same opinion of the ordinance, Chasse said he felt that the will of the board should prevail.

“What I have a problem (with) is the mayor does have a right to veto it, but if the majority of the 15 individuals that sit in this horseshoe vote in favor of something – something that really is not dollar signs in my eyes, it’s just basically information … I will support overriding the mayor’s veto.”

Like Chasse, Alderman-at-Large Diane Sheehan and Ward 8 Alderman Mary Ann Melizzi-Golja supported the override, despite initially voting against the measure.

Melizzi-Golja cautioned board members to be aware that the legislation carries no penalties, meaning that it’s possible there will be no ramifications for mayors who don’t comply with the revised ordinance.

“At the end of the day, if someone drops the ball in getting information to us, or if it isn’t gotten to us in a timely manner, we’re not operating with any more information,” she said.

Four of the seven aldermen who previously voted against the measure maintained the same position Tuesday, choosing not to support the override. They were Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Dowd, Ward 4 Alderman Pam Brown and Ward 7 Alderman June Caron.

Dowd rejected the notion that he does not support open government, saying that passing an ordinance would project the message that there is a lack of trust between the board and the mayor.

“I just think that to have legislation every time there’s a concern with what’s going with the mayor is not the way we should be going,” he said.

McCarthy raised concerns that passing a requirement to notify the Finance Committee of contract changes within 10 days could pose challenges because of the requirements of the state’s Right-to-Know Law.

He suggested sending the measure back to committee for further study, saying that he believes it’s possible that sending notifications to Finance Committee members by email would not sufficiently constitute the disclosure required by the ordinance.

“I suspect it has to be accepted by the committee to constitute having been notified,” he said.

After the override passed, board members briefly discussed the possibility of amending the requirements in the future to address any potential concerns under the Right-to-Know Law.

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