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Veto process not a credit to city

The vote last week by the Nashua Board of Aldermen to sustain Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s veto of a portion of a labor contract for police supervisors seems to make no sense, given that the exact same board approved the contract just a few weeks ago on a 14-1 vote.

It makes more sense when you consider that a lot changed between votes, though that still does no credit to the process or the city itself.

The mayor objected to a provision of the contract that allowed supervisors to use accumulated sick time against the retroactive portion of the increased costs they would have to pay. She railed against the fact that the police supervisors wouldn’t have to take a hit in their wallets and that the city wouldn’t get a financial benefit up front. She rejected that part of the contract and aldermen upheld the mayor’s veto on Tuesday night.

On the merits, the mayor was right. The sick-day swap was a sweetheart deal for police supervisors, unfair to other city workers and set a dangerous precedent. That her veto was upheld Tuesday night is a good thing. However, the way the aldermen reached their decision was embarrassing.

Before we get to those who changed their votes, let’s first acknowledge those aldermen who stood their ground.

Alderman Dan Moriarty voted against the contract in October and again last week. He deserves respect for doing so.

Others who stood their ground included Aldermen-at-Large Jim Donchess, Barbara Pressly, Lori Wilshire, David Deane and Mark Cookson; Ward 3 Alderman Diane Sheehan; and Ward 7 Alderman June Caron. You can argue that they voted in the wrong both times, but at least they had the courage of their convictions.

Then there were those who reversed their decisions: Board President Brian McCarthy, Ward 1 Alderman Kathy Vitale, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Dowd, Ward 4 Alderman Arthur Craffey, Jr., Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko, Ward 6 Alderman Paul Chasse, Ward 8 Alderman Mary Ann Melizzi-Golja.

You can argue that they got it right the second time around, but the process that led up to their votes was not the kind of thing to engender confidence among voters.

Some aldermen confessed to being confused about the specifics of the provision that would have allowed police supervisors to apply sick time to their retroactive health-insurance costs. We give those aldermen credit for being honest about that – if that’s what they were doing – but befuddlement is no substitute for being informed. Voters expect and deserve better. “I didn’t know what I was voting for” is a weak excuse. Most of the aldermen who changed their votes at least proffered reasons for doing do. The two most disappointing votes might have come from Dowd and McCarthy, neither of whom offered anything that could be interpreted as a reason for their switch.

During the debate leading up to the override vote, Alderman Wilshire told her colleagues that “nothing has changed” since the contract was initially approved.

Her point was a good one, but not entirely accurate. The contract was the same, but at least two other things were different.

That first was the political landscape in the city. The initial vote took place before the Nov. 5 municipal elections; the override vote came afterward. It’s impossible to say just how that influenced voting, but only Cookson and Pressly, among incumbents who were defeated in their bid for re-election, voted the same way as they had when the contract was approved in October. Vitale, Craffey and Tabacsko all changed their votes. They were no longer encumbered by the need to be accountable to voters.

The other difference was in what was at stake. The override vote was clearly a test of Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s credibility and strength, especially in the wake of the previous week’s disclosure that she and her husband had been the target of a police investigation that she claimed was part of a police-led smear campaign against her. It’s impossible to know how that influenced the outcome, but the political climate was clearly not the same one that existed when the contract was initially approved. Lozeau sorely needed a victory, and she got it.

At what cost to the process, and to the Board of Aldermen’s credibility, remains to be seen.

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