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Wanted: Strong aldermen board

The clear message sent by Nashua voters Tuesday is that they want to see the Board of Aldermen take a more assertive role in governing the city. Whether it’s more carefully monitoring specific projects, such as downtown sidewalk improvements, or a more diligent review of larger concerns, such as the budget, voters consistently elected candidates who pledged to exercise greater oversight.

No where was this development more striking than in the ward races, where three incumbents were unseated and two new aldermen were elected to seats vacated by Daniel Moriarty and Diane Sheehan, who moved up to citywide at-large spots. Five fresh faces, four of whom, pending the Ward 3 recount, have made it clear they favor rewriting the standard operating procedures.

In wards 3, 4, 5 and 9, voters favored candidates whose positions and comments were more critical of the mayor than their opponents.

Evidence of changes to come also can be found in the at-large contests five of six of the hopefuls supported a change of board leadership. While respectful of current board president Brian McCarthy, those candidates said a fresh approach to guiding the board is needed – a point driven home by the decision of David Deane to seek the board presidency.

When asked by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce to “rate on a scale of 1-10, the ability of our current Board of Aldermen to lead our city over the past two years (a “1” signifies a complete inability, and a “10” signifies a very strong capability), second-place finisher Moriarty gave the board a 3.

When asked in the same questionnaire: “Does the current composition of the Board of Aldermen allow for a balanced and transparent exchange of ideas and civil debate?” Moriarty said “yes” in principle, but added that, “The ideas offered are too often ignored. Requests for information are often neglected by the administration making it difficult to draw conclusions based on quantifiable data.”

Top-vote-getter Dean ranked the board’s ability to lead a little higher – he gave it a 5 – but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of how things were being done.

“Everyone is allowed to speak their mind,” Dean told the chamber. “The civil part does need to be addressed and at times our current Leadership allows certain members to attack certain colleagues as well as members of the Public without speaking up to cease this unprofessional behavior.”

For the record, third-place finisher Sheehan gave the current board an 8 and said “As an Alderman, I choose to research and come prepared for meetings, and respect the opinion of others as I would at any job. I cannot control others, only my reaction to them. When I ask the administration for information, I receive it in a timely and thorough manner.”

It’s good to know some board members are satisfied, though the election results suggest a significant portion of the electorate is less so. That’s a strong signal that aldermen should consider change.

The board could start by understanding where its political leverage rests – and that’s with the budget. Aldermen should insist that the budget process begin early and that it allow sufficient time for adequate review and oversight. It’s important to remember that their job is not only to appropriate money, but to hold Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and her administration accountable for spending it wisely.

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