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Thumb on the scale: Leave Nashua voters alone

October 07. 2017 9:59PM

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/Union Leader Correspondent)

Nashua aldermen did the right thing when they decided to ask city voters about plans to borrow $15.5 million to turn the vacant Alec's Shoes building into a performing arts center.

It's a nonbinding resolution, but getting guidance from the electorate for such a large project is prudent.

Alderman Dan Moriarty did the right thing when he reminded his colleagues last week not to put their thumb on the scale in order to get the result they want.

Several aldermen wanted to use city resources to encourage support for the arts center, but Moriarty warned that using City Hall to get supporters out to vote would violate the state law against electioneering.

Local boards often skirt the edges of this law, such as when school boards promote passage of warrant articles at Town Meeting. Sometimes, local officials go way over the line and use public resources to openly advocate for one side of a political question.

Enforcing the state's electioneering statute is hard, especially since the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that taxpayers have no standing to challenge their government's improper actions.

"Are you going to sue us?" asked Alderman Ben Clemons, demonstrating a remarkably dismissive attitude toward Moriarty's respect for the law.

If the purpose of the referendum is to gauge public support for building an expensive arts center on a prime commercial property, aldermen should be content to let Nashua voters make up their own minds.

If the purpose is just to provide political cover for a massive bond issue, aldermen should stop pretending they care what the public thinks.

Arts Local and County Government Editorial

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