Sidewalks trip up mayor, aldermen

If you took 100 people familiar with downtown Nashua and placed them in a room, you would be hard-pressed to find more than a few who didn’t believe fixing sidewalks should be a top priority.

Unfortunately, some of those people appear to be members of the aldermanic Budget Review Committee.

Last Wednesday, at the urging of Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess, the budget panel voted to strike $250,000 from the mayor’s budget earmarked for downtown improvements.

Donchess argued that since aldermen had yet to see a specific design for the project, the funds should be diverted to projects further down the pipeline.

To no one’s surprise, that served as a personal invitation to Main Street business owners, who turned out in force the next night to rip members for voting to eliminate the money from the budget.

Donchess responded by offering a new motion that night, this one to put $249,000 of the $250,000 in a contingency account and the remaining $1,000 into a “capital improvements – sidewalks” line item.

The former mayor said this approach, adopted by the seven-member panel, would ensure the money wouldn’t be spent until the aldermen received more detailed plans.

Now, we’ve come to accept this Board of Aldermen’s more combative relationship with Mayor Donnalee Lozeau – Donchess and Aldermen-at-Large David Deane and Barbara Pressly, to name three – and that is not always a bad thing. The give-and-take between mayor and aldermen can contribute toward a healthy system of checks and balances for city taxpayers.

And we understand the sentiment shared by some aldermen that the mayor is not as forthcoming with information as they would like, her decision to keep them in the dark about a possible shortfall in the police overtime budget earlier this year being Exhibit A.

But of all the things to pick a fight over in her proposed $230.6 million budget for next year, was it really necessary to single out $250,000 for much-needed and long-
overdue downtown sidewalk improvements?

Did the aldermen who supported the original motion really think this mayor – or any mayor, for that matter – would carry out a three-year downtown improvement plan with a total price tag of $900,000 behind their backs?

They knew the mayor presented the detailed plans once they became available to the Downtown Improvement Committee on May 11, the same committee on which Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko serves as the board’s liaison (he attended) and Donchess as the alternate (he did not.)

They knew the mayor presented those same plans to the Board of Public Works on May 17, the same committee on which Alderman-at-Large Mark Cookson serves as the board’s liaison.

And they knew the mayor intended to share the plans with them before proceeding with the project; she made that clear on the nights they nevertheless voted to first strike and later move the money into contingency.

Now, if we thought this was merely petty politics – just another opportunity to tweak the mayor’s nose for the sheer sport of it – we would call it that and be done with it. But this speaks to something much more alarming – a lack of trust.

Simply put: Some aldermen don’t want the mayor to have access to the sidewalk money because they don’t trust her to tell them how she plans to spend it.

If true, that’s a pretty disturbing turn of events just six months into their new terms in office.