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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nashua citizen services director no longer working for the city, presumed to be fired by mayor

NASHUA – Citizen Services Director Patricia Rogers’ employment with the city of Nashua has ended amid a quarrel between the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau over her job.

Rogers ceased working for the city Monday, according to the mayor’s communications director, Carolyn Mortellaro. Mortellaro declined to say whether Rogers, who was hired in 2008, left voluntarily or was terminated by the mayor. ...

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NASHUA – Citizen Services Director Patricia Rogers’ employment with the city of Nashua has ended amid a quarrel between the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau over her job.

Rogers ceased working for the city Monday, according to the mayor’s communications director, Carolyn Mortellaro. Mortellaro declined to say whether Rogers, who was hired in 2008, left voluntarily or was terminated by the mayor.

“We don’t really discuss personnel matters, as the mayor has said,” Mortellaro said.

The change came as Nashua aldermen were preparing to vote next week on whether to transfer the citizen services director position out of the mayor’s office and under their wing. The Budget Review Committee recommended the move, which Board of Aldermen President David Deane said was aimed at keeping Rogers in her job.

City attorney Stephen Bennett issued a legal opinion Friday that said the Board of Aldermen doesn’t have the authority to establish and control a position that performs administrative functions.

Deane said he believes the mayor then fired Rogers on Monday, although he hasn’t received any communications about the situation from the mayor. He called the development a “sad situation.” Deane said earlier this month that Rogers was well-respected and worked well with everyone.

“She’s very good at her job, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Rogers was the point person for residents who had concerns and complaints about city business. She was slated to earn a $49,779 salary in the position during fiscal 2015.

Rumors were swirling among city officials and on social media about the development Tuesday morning. Deane previously said he believed Rogers was being asked to leave her position by the mayor. When Deane raised the issue with Lozeau at a July 7 Budget Review Committee meeting, the mayor offered few details. Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess proposed entering a non-public session to discuss the issue, but Lozeau declined.

“It doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the aldermen,” Lozeau said at the time. “I wouldn’t talk about any position that had a personnel issue, necessarily, with the Board of Aldermen, nor would I meet with the Board of Aldermen in non-public session to talk about an employee that works for the aldermen.”

The committee went on to recommend moving the citizen services director out of the mayor’s office. Ward 4 Alderman Pam Brown voted against the idea, saying the director works closely with the mayor because some issues must be escalated to the mayor’s attention.

According to Bennett’s analysis, under the city charter, aldermen cannot empower a position with more authority than the board itself has. The charter instructs the board to deal with administrative employees “solely through the mayor” and stipulates that aldermen shall not give orders to any subordinate of the mayor.

As a result, a citizen services director working under the board wouldn’t be able to ensure that questions, issues and complaints would be answered, addressed or resolved, according to the legal opinion.

Bennett wrote that the citizen services director would lack the authority and resources required to undertake the functions the position currently has under the mayor.

“In other words, a board of aldermen’s citizen services position would be limited to ‘making suggestions and recommendations’ when passing on aldermen or citizens’ issues, concerns and problems to the mayor or division directors,” the opinion reads.

The opinion also asserts that some members of the Budget Review Committee engaged in conduct prohibited by the city charter during their July 7 discussion regarding the director position.

Charter regulations allow aldermen to discuss the function and funding of a city position, but the charter does not give the board authority to discuss a specific employee’s performance or how that employee is being managed, according to Bennett.

Bennett determined that committee members violated the charter’s prohibition against aldermen interfering with administrative services by publicly questioning the mayor on her future plans for the employee holding the citizen services director position and then basing their recommendation to remove the position from the mayor’s office “solely on the mayor’s unwillingness to guarantee that the incumbent would remain in the position.”

“The committee’s questions and comments to the mayor and its subsequent recommendation to transfer that position to the board of aldermen interferes with the mayor’s ability to supervise the administrative affairs of the city and undermines the mayor’s authority and ability to manage her staff,” the opinion reads.

After the opinion was rendered, Brown asked the Budget Review Committee on Monday to reconsider its decision, but the idea was voted down.

The change must be approved by the full Board of Aldermen before it would go into effect. The board is scheduled to consider the city budget at a special meeting Tuesday, July 22.

If the citizen services director position moves under the Board of Aldermen, city officials would have the ability to hire Rogers to serve in the position once again after the job opening is posted publicly.

Lozeau did not respond for comment during business hours Tuesday. Efforts to contact Rogers also were not immediately successful.

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