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Nashua;38.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-10-20 05:39:11
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Now about those early meeting times in Nashua …

Telegraph Editorial

When Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess introduced a resolution last month to amend the city charter to force the Board of Public Works to change its meeting time, we couldn’t support it – and we said so.

But it wasn’t because we disagreed with his basic premise. A publicly elected body overseeing a $9.6 million annual budget – in addition to managing the $68 million Broad Street Parkway and a $2 million downtown sidewalk improvement project – should meet at a time that ensures the greatest possible public access. ...

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When Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess introduced a resolution last month to amend the city charter to force the Board of Public Works to change its meeting time, we couldn’t support it – and we said so.

But it wasn’t because we disagreed with his basic premise. A publicly elected body overseeing a $9.6 million annual budget – in addition to managing the $68 million Broad Street Parkway and a $2 million downtown sidewalk improvement project – should meet at a time that ensures the greatest possible public access.

And 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon isn’t it.

Still, we opposed Donchess’ resolution because, as we wrote in our Feb. 20 editorial, “we find it ludicrous that a charter change would be necessary to bring about such a common-sense solution.”

Fortunately, the charter change has been put to bed now that the Board of Public Works – however reluctantly – agreed to move its regular meetings to a time more accessible to the public.

Last week, after some further prodding by Board of Aldermen President Brian McCarthy, the commissioners voted unanimously to move back their meeting time to no earlier than 5:30 p.m. – the same time it met up until 2008. Plans are to put it into effect for the board’s June meeting.

With the new 5:30 starting time, championed for months by Commissioner Tracy Pappas, all publicly elected bodies now will conduct their regular meetings in the evening: Board of Aldermen (7:30 p.m.); Board of Education (7); and Fire Commission (5:30). Even the appointed Planning Board (7) and Zoning Board of Adjustment (6:30) meet at times most conducive to the public.

That leaves one glaring exception among the city’s major government bodies: the Nashua Police Commission. It meets at 7:30 a.m. in the Nashua Police Department – hardly a friendly time or location to encourage public participation.

In fact, the 7:30 start came up several times during the public debate over the BPW’s meeting time, but it generally was dismissed on the grounds that the three-member commission isn’t an elected body.

To which we say: “So what?”

The independent commission is among the few remaining police commissions in the state that are appointed by the governor. And it has been that way for a long time, dating back to 1891.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t preclude its commissioners from meeting at a time when interested members of the public could attend, as is the case with other such commissions in the state.

The Portsmouth Police Commission meets at 6 p.m. in City Council chambers. Other police commissions that meet in the evening include Auburn (7), Claremont (6), Hooksett (6:30) and Rochester (7).

But perhaps worse than the 7:30 starting time is the dearth of information available on the Police Department website. No agendas for upcoming meetings. No minutes from previous meetings. Just a brief notice of when the commission is next scheduled to meet.

That’s unacceptable for a public body that operates a $17.7 million annual budget, appoints police officers, sets salaries and has the power to make and enforce rules that govern the department.

Sunshine Week may be over, but the responsibility of our public officials to operate in an open and transparent manner is not.

For the Nashua Police Commission, changing the meeting time and posting agendas and minutes online would be a wonderful place to start.