Nonpublic session gives Nashua a black eye

Admittedly, we don’t know everything that took place during the two-hour nonpublic session conducted by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and the Board of Aldermen in late October to discuss the acquisition, lease or sale of properties related to the Broad Street Parkway.

Perhaps that’s as it should be, given that the state Right to Know Law contains a specific exemption for just that purpose.

And given the once-sealed minutes released Tuesday contain 22 separate redactions, we may never know everything that took place on the public’s behalf during that closed-door meeting.

But we do know this: The public interest is never well-served when the legitimacy of entering a nonpublic session – coupled with what information should or should not be withheld from the city’s residents – remain a major topic of conversation nearly two months later.

Here’s the troubling sequence of events:

Oct. 23: Aldermen vote, 10-3, to enter nonpublic session, citing the Right to Know Law’s exemption for real estate discussions. After the two-hour meeting, all aldermen present vote to seal the minutes.

Nov. 13: The board agrees to keep the minutes sealed for another two weeks, after Ward 5 Alderman Mike Tabacsko identifies a few sections that he thought were going to be redacted.

Nov. 27: Aldermen deadlock, 6-6, on whether to release the sealed minutes after some complain too much material has been deleted from the document.

Dec. 11: Finally, 49 days after the meeting in question, aldermen vote unanimously to release the minutes to the public, though some continue to grumble publicly about the nearly two-dozen redactions.

Suffice to say, none of this reflects particularly well on the city, the mayor or the aldermen. When our elected officials can’t even agree on what constitutes a legitimate nonpublic session – and then proceed to quibble for weeks over what should or shouldn’t be released to the public – it breeds mistrust in the community.

By her own admission, the mayor acknowledged that there was only “a small part” of what she wanted to discuss that couldn’t be held in public session, presumably appraisals and the possible sale of surplus property the city no longer needed for the parkway.

“Tonight there’s a majority of this meeting that could be held in public, and there’s a small part of it that can’t be,” she said to open the meeting, according to the newly released minutes. “Depending on where we end up when we’re (done) our discussion, I think there’s an opportunity here to not seal the minutes as long as we redact some specific information.”

In other words, she seemed to suggest, let’s have an open-ended discussion that may fall outside the purview of the Right to Know Law, then let the public know what they missed after the fact.

Instead, Lozeau should have presented the confidential information to aldermen, answered specific questions, asked that the meeting be adjourned, and then discussed what she said “could be held in public” in public.

Now, we admit that it may not have been that simple; that the public and private items were so intertwined that it would have been difficult to keep them separate.

Maybe so, but that certainly would have been preferable to sticking a thumb in the public eye because someone might have said something inappropriate.