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Nashua official warns of 'electioneering' over arts center proposal

Union Leader Correspondent

October 04. 2017 10:10PM
Instead of supporting a proposed $15.5 million bond to convert the former Alec's Shoes store into a performing arts center, Nashua aldermen will be asking voters for their opinion on the November ballot. (Kimberly Houghton)

NASHUA — A city official is warning aldermen about the dangers of electioneering as residents prepare to vote on whether $15.5 million should be spent on a performing arts center.

“I am suggesting that we be mindful of the concept of electioneering in the Board of Aldermen, which you are not allowed to do in general,” Alderman-at-Large Dan Moriarty told his colleagues this week.

Moriarty urged aldermen to be cautious in the coming weeks leading up to the Nov. 7 election when residents will vote on a nonbinding referendum question asking whether they support a bond for a performing arts center.

Moriarty’s comments were made during a discussion Tuesday before the aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee, a panel that was being updated on the proposed arts center at the former Alec’s shoe store on Main Street.

Just prior to Moriarty’s words of caution, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Dowd said he visited several downtown business owners who questioned whether there is still hope for the project.

“If you support this, please turn out on election day,” said Dowd.

Alderman Michael O’Brien suggested that televisions be stationed at City Hall providing visitors with a presentation on the arts center proposal. The public should be notified of the facts, said O’Brien, adding it is not intended to promote one side or the other, but rather help voters make an informed decision.

But Moriarty disagreed, saying now that the matter is being placed on the ballot, it might be unfair soliciting by City Hall if that type of action were taken.

“I think it deserves investigating to see if there is currently (a law) that clarifies electioneering in the Board of Aldermen or City Hall … if there is a law, whatever it is, we need to abide by it,” said Moriarty.

“Are you going to sue us?” asked Alderman Ben Clemons, stressing it is not electioneering to encourage people with an opinion to come out and vote on a particular topic.

“If you hate the performing arts center come out and vote against it. There, it is fair and balanced now,” said Clemons.

Alderman Brian McCarthy, president of the board, said the referendum question is different than campaigning for elected office. He stressed that the majority of aldermen voted in favor of placing the nonbinding question on the ballot with the hope that it would receive support from the public.

“It is not the same situation,” maintained McCarthy, adding aldermen are permitted to endorse matters they support and have authority over.

McCarthy said there are dozens of venues in New Hampshire that are similar to the one being proposed in downtown Nashua, adding their calendars are filled with performances.

Aside from performance acts, he said the facility can be rented for meeting space and used to view movies.

“There is no end of opportunity,” McCarthy said of the proposed arts center.

Entertainment Local and County Government Nashua

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