After a public hearing with passionate comments on both sides, a proposal to place a referendum question on the November ballot asking voters to change how members of the Nashua Police Commission are appointed is moving on to the aldermen.
Mayor Jim Donchess is sponsoring the proposal to have appointments handled locally by the mayor and president of the Board of Aldermen. Currently, the governor and Executive Council appoint members to the commission.
“I think we have to call this what it really is. This is clearly a power grab under the cloak of diversity and feel-good verbiage about the selection process,” Sandy Cleary of Nashua said at Monday’s hearing.
Alderwoman Patricia Klee said the proposal would increase the number of commissioners from three to five and, if handled locally, would mean the interview process would be fully transparent.
“It is time for Nashua residents to have a voice in their police department. We pay the bills, the salaries and we have the legal liability if something goes wrong,” said Klee. “I believe this change will bring full transparency and accountability.”
State Rep. Ray Newman agreed, saying Nashua is the only police commission in the state still appointed by the governor and Executive Council.
“All of the cities have already regained home rule and I think that is a good thing for the appointment of police commissioners,” said Newman.
However, several police officials voiced strong opposition, including Nashua Police Chief Mike Carignan.
If police commissioners are appointed by the mayor or aldermanic president, Carignan said those commissioners are more likely to have a political loyalty to the person who appointed them.
“With that loyalty comes influence. That influence can affect who we hire, who we promote and who we transfer,” said the chief. “ … The governor has a much lower stake in the day-to-day operations of Nashua city government and therefore is much less able to exert control and influence over police business.”
James Tollner, chairman of the police commission, is also opposed.
“There are other New Hampshire police departments struggling to manage the very change you are now contemplating,” he said.
An aldermanic committee will review the proposal on July 6.