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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sunshine week: Text messages a way for Nashua mayor to get crime, storm updates quickly, records show

NASHUA – When a crime or an emergency happens in Nashua, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau likes to get updates straight from the police chief.

And although Nashua Police Department Police Chief John Seusing reports directly to a governor-appointed commission and is not required to report to the mayor, the chief typically keeps her on top of issues that arise in the city. ...

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NASHUA – When a crime or an emergency happens in Nashua, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau likes to get updates straight from the police chief.

And although Nashua Police Department Police Chief John Seusing reports directly to a governor-appointed commission and is not required to report to the mayor, the chief typically keeps her on top of issues that arise in the city.

“Thanks for keeping me updated,” Lozeau texted Seusing over a shooting in front of the Shaw’s supermarket on Main Street last summer, “prefer that to the news.”

In February, The Telegraph requested access to all of Lozeau’s calls and text messages in her capacity as mayor, sent and received over the past six months. The mayor provided a long list of phone numbers in return, plus six pages worth of text messages – shared with Seusing, Alderman-at-Large Mark Cookson and Ward 9 Alderman Dan Moriarty and several city division heads.

The state’s Right-to-Know law extends the public’s access to governmental records in electronic form and electronic communications used to transact governmental business. But how cell phone records and texts should be kept isn’t always clear.

In Lozeau’s case, text messaging isn’t her go-to tool to get things done, she said, but she has resorted to texting to get crime or storm updates, records show.

“I try not to do business in text messages, and I try not to do business in email,” Lozeau said. “I think in text messages and in emails, you lose the tone, the inflection, and things can be misinterpreted by the people you’re trying to talk to or by somebody who might read it later. … I want to talk to people face to face or talk to people over the phone. I think that’s the way to do it or talk to them in the public meeting setting.”

Lozeau uses her personal cell phone – an iPhone 5 she purchased a couple of weeks ago – for city business. In her first two years in office, Lozeau used a personal phone without any city reimbursement while the city worked out a new cell phone policy, she said.

The city’s current policy pays employees a $50 monthly allowance for personal digital assistants or smartphones, or $17 a month for a cell phone.

The allowance ensures employees will be available by cell phone if needed, Lozeau said.

Employees who choose to use city-issued cell phones complete a monthly reconciliation report in order to reimburse the city for any personal costs on their bill.

When Lozeau changed phones recently, she forwarded all of her texts from her former device to her email in order to accommodate The Telegraph’s records request. However, in the process she said she lost the names and timestamps on her texts. She and Seusing were able to recall the issues that played out over the dozen or more texts they exchanged from this past August to February, or earlier.

Their conversations range from a fatal crash on East Dunstable Road to a shooting on Salvail Court, across from BAE Systems on Canal Street, in December.

Among the texts Lozeau and Seusing exchange with each other, Seusing sometimes describes a victim’s condition.

“Sounds like bullet missed vitals in neck,” Seusing texted Lozeau after the shooting in front of Shaw’s Supermarket on Main Street in August. “Still searching for suspect at this time.”

Lozeau has asked police and fire chiefs to keep her informed about important incidents since she took office in 2008, she said.

“There’s no rules that say they have to tell you anything,” Lozeau said of the updates she gets from Seusing. “But one would think they would agree that’s it’s reasonable for the mayor to know about somebody being killed.”

Sometimes Seusing will call Lozeau with information, sometimes she will reach out to him if an issue comes to her attention, she said. Texting between them is rare.

Texts show that Seusing will share details of his department’s investigations with Lozeau.

“Victim is not being as cooperative as we’d like,” he texted Lozeau about the Shaw’s shooting.

“Unbelievable! Is the shooter back in nh?” she replied.

“Not certain who the shooter is at this point,” Seusing texted. “Possibly not the person we originally thought. Still searching. We’re hoping the victim will help us out.”

“Shouldn’t be so hard. You’d think they’d want to help,” Lozeau said.

Seusing said the incident dictates which details to share with Lozeau – and when.

“It’s a case-by-case basis, what I let her know,” Seusing told The Telegraph on Friday. “As mayor, I think she should know certain things, but certainly I’m not going to release anything that’s going to jeopardize the investigation.”

If information about an incident is going to be released publicly, Seusing said it is appropriate to share it with the mayor. Sometimes he also gives her more information than he might give to the public if it doesn’t put the department’s investigation at risk.

“It’s just so she’s informed,” Seusing said. “Especially if it’s a major incident in the city – and I know the shooting in front of Shaw’s was done pretty much in broad daylight, so I thought it was important that she should be aware because she might be asked some questions.”

Other texts exchanged between Lozeau and city officials deal with other breaking updates – though the dates are missing from Lozeau’s records and it’s difficult to tell exactly which events they deal with.

Streets Superintendent Roy Sorenson texted Lozeau the most with city business over the past six months, records show, and at times he provided nearly inch-by-inch accounts of the Division of Public Works’ snow removal process.

Office of Emergency Management Director Justin Kates also kept Lozeau’s phone abuzz with storm updates.

“Treating roads – 1” Sorenson texted Lozeau during one snow storm this year. “Going to keep the trucks we have on to get everything before morning commute – no full scale plowing.”

As the storm goes on, so do Sorenson’s texts.

“13’ plus in areas and wind is causing drifts,” he texted her later – though it is unclear if the texts are from two different storms. “2 tows so far so people have stayed off streets.”

Beyond the conditions of city streets, Lozeau has texted Sorenson to check on the condition of her plow drivers – and to take their food orders, her texts show.

Once one storm hit 18 inches, Sorenson texted Lozeau, “everyones punchy.” Perhaps his next messages about breakfast sandwiches arriving from Norton’s Classic Cafe made the difference.

“Let me know if I can help,” Lozeau said. “Maybe I can swing in at noon or something ... If a sub shop is open I can bring subs or something let me know.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).