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January 19. 2014 9:40PM

Nashua aldermen debate: Elected or appointed police commisson?

NASHUA — With controversy erupting over whether a sitting police commissioner inappropropriately intervened in a police investigation, aldermen have conflicting opinions on whether the commissioners should continue to be appointed by the governor.

Nashua is currently the only community in the state that still has its police commission members appointed by the governor and approved by the Executive Council, a practice that dates to the 1920s or 1930s.

"I think the process has been working, but I would prefer to see some local accountability of the commission," said Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, vice-president of the board. "This was originally done to keep out local politics, but I think it might go the other way at this point."

McCarthy noted that other commissions in Nashua — including the Board of Public Works and the Nashua Fire Commission — are elected.

If city officials had the desire to change the way the Nashua Police Commission is chosen, it would have to be pursued by the state legislature, according to McCarthy.

"I don't think we've had any discussion on it," he said, adding there could be future talks about the issue in light of the situation with state Rep. David Campbell.

Campbell recently ran over and killed several mallard ducks with his vehicle after having a couple of drinks at a local hotel, and was ultimately picked up by Police Commissioner Thomas Pappas, who contacted the police department two hours later about the accident.

"We are in a better position to choose the commissioners based solely on merit and not the politics in Concord or the whims of the governor," said Alderman Ken Siegel, Ward 9. "Appointments by the governor are made for political reasons first and competency reasons last. Elections by the people of Nashua would avoid that problem."

If police commissioners were elected, it would remove political considerations from the selection process and also make the commissioners more accountable to local citizens, according to Siegel.

Other aldermen, including Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess, believe the existing system of appointing commissioners is working.
"During the seven years that I was mayor, the police commission functioned independently as it does now. We had strong police commissioners at that time. We worked well together and encountered no problems over control of the department," said Donchess. "Our experience over the past few years demonstrates the danger that could result from control by City Hall over the Nashua Police Department and police operations."

Donchess said the police department must remain focused on fighting a rising crime rate rather than on responding to political demands.

Alderman Mike Soucy, Ward 5, agreed.

"I think the current method of appointments protects us all, the mayor and Board of Aldermen from either actual or perceived involvement in the affairs and investigations of our fine police department," said Soucy, a former city police officer.

Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire sees no reason to change the appointment process.

" ... Changing the way police commissioners are appointed would be a great disservice to the city," Wilshire said. "We are very well-served by the department, and our national accreditation speaks to the great work they do."

Alderman-at-large Diane Sheehan was hesitant to comment on her preference, but said there needs to be more accountability.

"I would feel more comfortable if there was a checks-and-balance process in place," she said.

khoughton@newstote.com


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