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March 09. 2014 9:56PM

Nashua mayor to aldermen: Don’t alter rules on city contracts

NASHUA — While some aldermen believe amendments to city contracts deserve more inspection, the mayor says a proposed change to how the contracts are authorized could be detrimental.

Currently, any contract over $10,000 must be approved by the aldermanic Finance Committee. To provide additional review, Alderman-at-Large James Donchess is now proposing that any amendments to those contracts must again be analyzed and authorized by the committee.

“I think this is an open government transparency reform,” Donchess said last week. The proposal was submitted after select aldermen were not informed that a previous contract with a consulting firm helping to create the city’s rebranding campaign was terminated early.

As the current ordinance stands, contracts may be changed or even canceled without public disclosure or review by the Finance Committee if the amendments are under $10,000, said Donchess.

Donchess is hoping to eliminate the $10,000 threshold and require any contractual amendment — whether it includes funding or not — to again be approved by the committee.

“This, I believe, would be devastating to the city,” said Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

Lozeau acknowledged that she frequently signs off on contract changes such as project timelines, scope of work and monetary adjustments. Many of the contractual amendments are minor and could result in significant delays if they must be reviewed by the Finance Committee beforehand, she said.

For example, Lozeau said that during recent work on the Broad Street Parkway, crews found additional asbestos and offered to remove the contaminants at no additional cost, but the contract timeline was extended slightly to allow for the extra work. If that contract change had to go before the Finance Committee first, it would have stalled the asbestos removal by about two weeks, which would have cost the city more money in the long run because the crews would have had to return to the site and start cleanup again.

“I don’t think there is a problem with transparency,” she said. The city wants vendors to do business in Nashua, and the proposed ordinance could be an additional hurdle for them, Lozeau said.

Donchess said people, city officials included, deserve to know when changes occur in contracts, stressing the ordinance would help make those amendments more visible. Donchess said he worries about significant changes and decisions being made without anyone knowing about it.

“I get that this could create more red tape,” he said, but added that it would be worth the effort if there is ultimately more public disclosure in the end.

“I am not trying to hide anything from the public,” said Lozeau, adding there is plenty of public disclosure when contracts over $10,000 must be approved by the committee. She noted that any financial amendments to the contracts may be viewed in the monthly record of expenditures.

Alderman David Deane, president of the board, said it is difficult to track those financial changes on a monthly basis.

Alderman Ken Siegel, Ward 9, said that going forward he would like to know that only clerical changes are being made to contracts that have already been authorized by the committee.

At least two aldermen — Pam Brown and Paul Chasse — said they have concerns that the proposal would stall projects while additional review by the committee would be necessary for minor contractual changes.

A lot of projects could go unfinished because of this, according Chasse, cautioning the committee about adopting the ordinance.

The Finance Committee did not vote on the proposed ordinance last week but will revisit the matter at its next meeting. The full Board of Aldermen will also have to vote on the proposal once the committee makes its recommendation.

khoughton@newstote.com


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