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Nashua;66.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/bkn.png;2014-09-21 10:06:09
Thursday, October 13, 2011

Background check issue back to panel

NASHUA – In the end, a citizen’s suggestion and the hope of compromise might have scuttled any thought of a veto-override attempt.

Or maybe it was because the political deck was stacked against Alderman-at-Large Mark Cookson overcoming Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s veto.

The issue that caused Lozeau to exercise her veto power is a proposal to have an independent contractor perform background checks on those selected to run Pennichuck Corp. should the city officially purchase the company.

Cookson sponsored the resolution, saying an outside source checking backgrounds would eliminate any political pressure on the city human resource department.

Lozeau said she vetoed Cookson’s proposal because it creates an unfavorable impression on her human resources staff. The actual work of checking backgrounds is handled by independent sources when human resources looks into the candidates, she said.

It is unknown if Cookson could have persuaded enough aldermen to meet the 10-vote threshold to override a mayoral veto. He later said it would have been a close vote.

Instead of bringing the resolution to an override vote, Cookson agreed to send the resolution back to the aldermanic Personnel Committee to consider adding ideas suggested by resident Robert Sullivan.

If the city receives state regulatory approval to buy Pennichuck, which could happen later this month, candidates to run the company will have undergone criminal back checks on the local and state level, as well had searches on their credit and educational backgrounds.

Sullivan recommended also running candidates through sex offender checks as well as a national criminal database, in case anyone has broken the law outside of New Hampshire. He also suggested having candidates take drug tests.

Cookson said he doesn’t question the integrity or ability of human resources employees. Rather, he said he wants to keep politics out of the task of handing Pennichuck over to a board of directors and interim CEO.

“She says she’s in favor and doesn’t oppose the background check,” Cookson said of Lozeau. “What she objects to is it being done by an independent contractor.”

He added later: “Everything we have done is to keep politics out of it … except for the mayor in this instance.”

Cookson eventually agreed to sending his resolution back to committee if Sullivan’s suggestions are considered.

He also asked Lozeau if she would reconsider his resolution if the background screening process was expanded.

Lozeau said she would be “interested in the final committee product” and would “consider anything” but stopped short of saying she would again veto the resolution.

On Wednesday, Cookson said he hopes his resolution comes out of committee with the language about an outside contractor intact; the committee can change it. Cookson can later choose to put an amended resolution or his original to a final vote.

In February, alderman appointed consultant John Patenaude, who advised the city through its efforts to negotiate a stock purchase of the water company, to the interim CEO position. Patenaude would serve no longer than three years and receive an annual salary of $190,000.

The city is going through a second round of interviews for the board of directors, interviewing 16 candidates out of a field that was 24 deep, Cookson said.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.