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Friday, April 6, 2012

Honeymoon over for mayor, board?

Telegraph Editorial

Nine months ago, we published an editorial suggesting things couldn’t be going any better for first-term Mayor Donnalee Lozeau (June 30: “For mayor, it doesn’t get any better than this”).

In the span of five days, the mayor had learned no one had filed papers to challenge her bid for a second term, the Board of Aldermen approved a two-year contract with the Nashua Teachers Union that contained the health care concessions she insisted upon, and the aldermen passed her $227.2 million budget blueprint for 2011-12 as presented.

When she woke up this morning, that must now seem like a dream. Since the new 15-member board was inaugurated Jan. 8, the mayor and aldermen have clashed on several issues, most notably the city’s failure to acquire – and thereby block development – of Pennichuck’s Parcel F and a brewing controversy over how she handled notification of a looming shortfall in the Police Department budget.

That prompted the mayor’s rare 20-minute address to aldermen at the start of their March 27 meeting, during which she defended her handling of the Parcel F negotiations, lamented the tone of a special aldermen’s meeting on that topic the previous night, and called for a renewed spirit of cooperation.

That “renewed spirit” lasted all of five seconds, as Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess took to task the mayor and President Brian McCarthy for not sharing a Feb. 3 letter from the Police Department, referring to McCarthy as “supposedly our leader” in the process.

In that letter, the Board of Police Commissioners informed the mayor that the department was on track to overspend its overtime account by $300,000-$350,000 before the end of the fiscal year June 30.

After reprimanding Donchess for his “supposed” wisecrack, Lozeau said she didn’t feel the need to share the letter because she was working with Police Chief John Seusing and the commissioners, and they were not requesting any specific action from the aldermen at that time.

That Donchess should emerge as the self-appointed champion of the Police Department, of course, should come as a surprise to no one. The former mayor advocated for more police resources, including a bigger overtime budget, during his campaign for the seat last fall.

Donchess went so far as to stage a press conference – pretty unprecedented in an alderman’s race – at the site of a major brawl weeks earlier to accept the endorsement of two police unions: the Nashua Police Patrolman’s Association and the Nashua Police Supervisors Association. The fact that Donchess once served as the patrolman union’s labor attorney during the early 2000s certainly didn’t hurt his cause.

As for the dispute over the letter, we get it. Lozeau, as mayor, believes it’s her responsibility to manage her departments. Donchess, now an alderman, believes the board has a right to know if police manpower is going to be reshuffled because of a looming budget shortfall.

And that there are those who suspect Donchess would like to be the city’s next mayor certainly doesn’t help this strained relationship.

We’ll know more when the aldermen talk with police officials at their next meeting April 10. In the meantime, we would suggest a certain alderman heed the mayor’s call for a more collegial and collaborative approach to governing our city.

We have a dysfunctional Congress. We have dysfunctional state Legislature. We don’t need a dysfunctional City Hall.