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Monday, July 21, 2014

Citizen services position debated

NASHUA – When aldermen begin their final deliberations on the city’s proposed $256.7 million budget this week, one of the most contentious issues is likely to involve one of the smallest expenditures in the annual spending package.

The board will decide Tuesday whether to take control over the position of citizen services director by moving the job out of Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s office. ...

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NASHUA – When aldermen begin their final deliberations on the city’s proposed $256.7 million budget this week, one of the most contentious issues is likely to involve one of the smallest expenditures in the annual spending package.

The board will decide Tuesday whether to take control over the position of citizen services director by moving the job out of Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s office.

The Budget Review Committee recommended the change earlier this month amid discussions about whether Lozeau intended to terminate the woman who formerly held the job.

That employee, Patricia Rogers, ended her employment with the city last week, after the budget committee recommended taking charge over her position.

Some aldermen have speculated that Rogers was fired by the mayor, although Lozeau has not publicly addressed the circumstances surrounding her departure. Lozeau declined to comment on the issue through a spokeswoman because it involves city personnel.

Amendments to the budget will go before the full Board of Aldermen on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at a special meeting at Nashua City Hall. The revised budget calls for aldermen to zero out the salary for the citizen services director and create a new staff position under the Board of Aldermen with the same duties. While several board members are backing that plan, the discussion Tuesday is likely to center around a legal opinion issued July 10 that raises concerns about the move.

City attorney Stephen Bennett determined that a director working under the Board of Aldermen wouldn’t have the same authority as one working for the mayor because aldermen don’t have purview over administrative functions.

“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.

Some aldermen have interpreted Bennett’s opinion to mean that any attempt to move the citizen services director is prohibited by the city charter. Others believe the director could continue to perform the same duties; he or she simply wouldn’t be able to issue orders to other city employees.

The director is responsible for communicating with citizens, employees and elected officials, fielding questions, concerns and complaints. The director also interfaces with public and private agencies to “effectively and efficiently” manage requests from the Board of Aldermen on behalf of themselves and constituents.

In the event of an emergency, the citizen services director also is tasked with serving as a backup at Nashua’s Emergency Operations Center.

Applicants for the job are asked to have a four-year college degree, and are expected to learn job responsibilities within about six months of being on the job. The citizen services director was slated to earn a $49,779 in fiscal 2015.

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.

However, the process of creating a new position poses procedural hurdles. Two thirds of those who are present and voting at Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting would need to support any move to add money back into the budget for the director’s salary. The change also would need to withstand a potential line item veto from the mayor.

Overall, the Budget Review Committee’s amendments add $173,392 to the budget submitted by Lozeau earlier this year. The changes would result in an overall city budget of $256,711,003, with general fund appropriations of $241,371,942.

The amended budget would come in underneath the city’s spending cap by $35,945. Aldermen face an August deadline to finalize the spending plan.

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