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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mayor vetoes portion of Nashua Police Supervisors Union contract minutes after making accusations against department

Minutes after accusing the Nashua Police Department of targeting her husband in a criminal investigation because of political disagreements with City Hall, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau on Tuesday rejected a key provision in a new contract with Nashua police supervisors, leading to questions whether her veto was an act of retaliation against the department.

Lozeau issued a line-item veto striking down a portion of the new collective bargaining agreement between the Nashua Police Supervisors Union and the city. ...

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Minutes after accusing the Nashua Police Department of targeting her husband in a criminal investigation because of political disagreements with City Hall, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau on Tuesday rejected a key provision in a new contract with Nashua police supervisors, leading to questions whether her veto was an act of retaliation against the department.

Lozeau issued a line-item veto striking down a portion of the new collective bargaining agreement between the Nashua Police Supervisors Union and the city.

“One can’t help but question the timing,” said Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly. “I think that’s very unwise of her to do. It seems to add fuel to the other issue.”

The four-year contract agreement passed the Board of Aldermen with overwhelming support last week. It calls for union members to pay a greater share of their health care costs – retroactive to 2011 – but also allows them to cash in unused sick time to pay the differential.

Lozeau sharply criticized the deal earlier this month, warning that it will set a precedent for other union workers that sick days can be treated like “monopoly money” in negotiations.

In a letter released to The Telegraph on Tuesday, Lozeau said she has vetoed the provision and is asking members of the Board of Aldermen to send the contract back to the negotiating parties.

“While I am willing to let some of these objectionable provisions move forward, I cannot support a provision that permits thirty-two city employees to avoid the actual cost of paying back their retroactive health care premium increases using accrued sick days,” she wrote.

The letter came within minutes of another announcement from the mayor’s office regarding a criminal probe launched by Nashua police.

According to the mayor, she and her husband came under investigation by the police department after allegations of bid-rigging, drug use and misconduct as a bail commissioner were lodged against David Lozeau.

The mayor denied any personal wrongdoing and accused the police department of waging a smear campaign against her, abusing its power to advance personal or political ends.

The revelations came as a surprise to city officials, some of whom questioned the mayor’s motivation in vetoing part of the union deal, while others stood behind the mayor’s rationale.

Despite the rocky relationship between Lozeau and the police department, Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire found the mayor’s assertion that she is the victim of a smear campaign to be far-fetched.

“They certainly had their differences over time, the mayor and the police department, but I think this is a little bit too far,” she said. “I don’t buy that they’re going to investigate the mayor for wrongdoing. And her comments about them having a smear campaign – I don’t buy it.”

According to the mayor’s letter, the police inquiry into her husband was launched three years ago under former Police Chief Donald Conley. It was eventually closed, but police launched the probe once again in February 2013, around the same time she was engaging in a public feud with new police chief John Seusing over the budget.

Lozeau called the investigation “unfounded” and said the conduct of Nashua police is “shocking and appalling.”

“I am saddened that my disagreements with the Nashua Police Department over their budget has come to this,” Lozeau wrote. “I look forward to a public conversation about the conduct of all parties involved. The public deserves to know what happened.”

The spat over the supervisors union contract was the latest example in a string of disagreements between the mayor and the police department.

In 2012, Lozeau argued against padding the police department budget to increase staffing and called for an independent review of crime statistics.

She continued her critique during her State of the City address this February, calling out the police union for stonewalling her request for health concessions.

At the time, Seusing told The Telegraph he was stunned by the mayor’s remarks, calling them a potential “interference” to the ongoing contract negotiations process.

“I was surprised that she said what she did in that forum, and certainly to the extent that she did,” Seusing said.

The new supervisors union contract is retroactive to July 1, 2011. It calls for base salaries to increase 7.7 percent for lieutenants, rising from $83,693 to $90,321 over four years. Sergeants would receive a 6.7 percent increase during the same period.

Lozeau argued those salary hikes are out of step with other city employees. Aldermen also rejected an earlier version of the contract that was largely similar.

However, sentiment shifted in favor of the reworked deal once it reached the aldermen again this month. The contract was recommended unanimously by the Budget Review Committee and passed the full board by a 14-1 vote.

In light of the recent tension between the mayor and police, Wilshire said she finds it plausible that Lozeau’s veto decision this week stemmed from the feud with police.

“She hasn’t gotten along with the police department ever, to my knowledge,” Wilshire said. “Since she’s been mayor, there’s always been some distance between the two.”

Aldermen must now decide whether to accept Lozeau’s veto and send the contract back to the negotiating table or try to muster 10 votes to override the mayor. The decision will come at the next board meeting in two weeks, which falls after the Nov. 5 city election.

After voting in favor of the contract, Wilshire and Pressly said they’ll push for an override. Board President Brian McCarthy was less certain.

“I’ve got to look at the logic behind it,” McCarthy said. “To some extent there’s a sentiment of ‘We’ve just got to get this behind us and move on.’ ”

McCarthy said he was unaware of the criminal investigation involving the mayor and her husband. He said the circumstances raise concerns that a falling-out between the mayor’s office and police could spill over into city business.

“I wouldn’t want to try to guess the motives of either side in that case, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in the history of government,” he said.

Despite the concern from other city officials, Alderman-at-Large David Deane said he doesn’t see any connection between the mayor’s veto and recent strife with law enforcement. After working with Lozeau on several projects, Deane said the mayor is above that kind of retribution.

“I think that contract was another issue unto itself,” Deane said. “I don’t think she would veto that out of spite of an investigation. She’s not that kind of a person. She spoke her piece on it. She was adamantly against it. I think it’s just her exercising her principles of why she was against it, and she has the authority to veto if she cares to do so.”

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