Since March 19, 1891, the Nashua Police Department has been under the authority of a three-person Police Commission appointed by the Governor of New Hampshire and approved by the Executive Council. Police Commissioners must be Nashua residents for a minimum of 5 years prior to their appointment. Names can be submitted by any Nashua resident or government official for consideration. The Executive Council conducts interviews and background checks on the nominees after their application is officially received, prior to selection. The Nashua residents that are the present Police Commissioners are: James Tollner (term expires 9/1/22), Matthew Plante (term expires 9/1/23), Nicholas Dahl (term expires 9/1/24) . All three of these gentlemen have longevity within the Nashua community with two being native to Nashua, and the third has been a resident for over thirty years.
The commission oversees governing the police force, as well as administration issues including hiring, termination, promotions, salaries, and benefits. The annual police budget, once approved by the Police Commissioners, is brought to the Nashua Board of Aldermen for final approval.
This structure of reporting, to date, has kept politics out of policing the city of Nashua. It has allowed for investigations to be conducted without bias or undue influence from local officials. Over the years there have even been several investigations which involved individuals connected to city hall itself. For instance, in the early 1990s, three Nashua aldermen were investigated, prosecuted, and ultimately convicted after a Nashua Police investigation. This separation has also been highlighted by CALEA commissioners during Nashua Police Department’s accreditation process on more than one occasion. CALEA is the national accrediting body for police agencies. Nashua Police are among 5% of all police agencies across the country to receive or attempt to receive this accreditation. Within that 5% of agencies, Nashua Police receives “advanced accreditation,” which means that Nashua Police Department is subjected to far more rigorous criteria and standards than “basic accreditation.” Within even that small number of selective agencies, Nashua Police Department has been recognized as the best of the best.
In May 2021 a small group of aldermen, led by Mayor Donchess, proposed Resolution
R-21-143 to change the way the police commissioners were selected, their hierarchy of reporting, the way that they can be fired, and increased the number from three to five. (Note: some of those aldermen now oppose the change, citing that they didn’t have all the facts at the time and that more study was required) . CLICK HERE
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, nor is it a male/female issue, despite the objectionable attempts to use, and frankly wrongfully exploit, “diversity” as a simple buzz word thrown about... this is an issue that effects the WHOLE city of Nashua.
At Board of Aldermen meetings, many people spoke in both opposition and in favor. The resolution was tabled multiple times citing that more study time is necessary and that this should not be rushed and, if it were to occur, it should NOT be during a midterm election when voter turnout is typically very low. They also questioned why it was even necessary at this time. Was something broken? Nobody said that anything was broken and commended our Nashua Police Department for their performance. In fact, as was pointed out during these discussions, the mayor himself previously commended the Nashua Police Department. Others questioned whether a change even needs to happen and if this proposed change is even the right one. The Chief of Police, Michael Carignan, posted an open letter on the NPD Facebook page explaining the department’s concerns. CLICK HERE
On August 10, 2021, the Board of Aldermen officially voted and rejected the resolution.
CLICK HERE , starts at page 19.
In the interim, the mayor and one alderwoman joined by four Nashua citizens, began a “people’s petition” to put the resolution on the ballot in the November 2, 2021 election. Even after the Board of Aldermen officially rejected the resolution, the mayor and this small group were out collecting signatures at local sites and going door-to-door for their petition - ignoring the direction and recommendation of the Board of Aldermen. CLICK HERE
Many local leaders were not only concerned, but outraged that, despite the concerns raised and the need for further study, this process would be taken on a charter change this impactful.
Many wrote public letters to both the board and local papers:
- Business leaders & concerned citizens - CLICK HERE
- Former Senator Kelly Ayotte - CLICK HERE
- Ret. Chief Timothy Hefferan - CLICK HERE
In late August, the petition committee submitted approximately 2,058 names they collected for validation to the city clerk where 1,830 names were certified.
The city clerk and city legal counsel previously determined that in accordance with
RSA 49-B:5 (II) CLICK HERE , for the question to be on the ballot, that 15% of the ballots cast in the last regular municipal election, or 1,539 signatures (i.e. 10,260*.15) were needed. On September 21, 2021, the Board of Aldermen, on advice of city counsel, were told that enough signatures were collected on the petition and that they had no choice but to move it to the November ballot. CLICK HERE , starts at page 20.
However, the Nashua City Charter, Chapter 1 - Board of Police Commissioners, Section A-141, specifies that, in order to change the city charter, regarding the police commission, by petition, 10% of the registered voters is required, which is 6,725 certified signatures (i.e., 67,249 *.10), which is well above the amount of signatures that were obtained. CLICK HERE
On, September 29, 2021, a concerned group of citizens and business leaders, in conjunction with the Chief of Police, filed Declaratory Judgement Action with the State of New Hampshire, citing this discrepancy. CLICK HERE
This question is being put to the voters on November 2, 2021. CLICK HERE for the sample ballot.
There are several reasons why Nashua citizens should go to the polls this election and VOTE NO on BALLOT QUESTION #2!
1. Take Time to Review Implications of Changing the Nashua Police Commission Oversight.
This process is being rushed, and there has not been a clearly stated reason why this decision must be made this fall. Both sides of this conversation have called for a thorough study of this question about who should control police commission appointments. There is a special committee just beginning this conversation and will need time to review all aspects of this decision, but the mayor opposes waiting for any results. Not allowing time to review creates a rushed, risky, bad political move. The Chief of Police and President of the Board of Aldermen attempted to meet with the mayor to discuss alternatives, but the mayor was not willing to negotiate. So, we must ask ourselves “What is the mayor’s real motivation here?”
2. Independence from City Hall Control is critical.
The independence of the Nashua Police Commission is critical to its integrity and professionalism. Many citizens wish to preserve the commission’s ability to investigate corruption and criminal activity without fear of reprisal from city hall. One need only look at Nashua’s not so distant history to understand why this is important. As many may already know, three Nashua aldermen were investigated, prosecuted, and ultimately convicted in the 1990s after a Nashua Police investigation. You would think that city hall would WANT this layer of protection from the risk of corruption, nepotism, and favoritism.
3. “Local Control” vs “Total Control” reason put forth by the mayor is misleading.
First, we already HAVE local control. Our police commissioners are Nashua residents.
Second, Mayor Donchess has publicly claimed Nashua Police had no real involvement in the 1993 Aldermanic criminal matter and that it was a federal investigation and prosecution. That is categorically false. Ret. Chief Timothy Hefferan oversaw the local investigation, which was initiated and conducted at the local level, before being joined by the Attorney General’s Office or the US Attorney’s Office. It is greatly concerning that the city official who would assume total control over the commission doesn’t understand or respect its independent nature. CLICK HERE to see Ret. Chief Hefferan’s comments.
4. Nashua Police Department opposes this reform.
Nashua Police oppose this measure and believes it is crucial to leave Nashua Police Commission oversight to a state-appointed, independent, oversight board, with no direct control from the mayor and aldermen. It is critical to note the Nashua Police Department is a nationally accredited law enforcement agency with a stellar reputation and outstanding community relations. It is also important to note that the amendment, if passed, allows for the mayor to remove ANY commissioner at ANY time. So, that means if any commissioner supports a position contrary to the mayor... they can be removed! Is that good for the city? Sounds more like a fiefdom!
5. This is NOT a Diversity issue.
The mayor has cited numerous times that he wants a woman on the police commission, and isn’t it time we get a woman on the commission? There is NOTHING preventing him from nominating a woman for the board, but he hasn’t. As a matter of fact, since he’s been mayor, he hasn’t once nominated a candidate for police commissioner. Even in the heat of battle and garnering support for this change by personally going door-to-door talking with our neighbors and trying to get signatures for his petition, Nick Dahl came up for reappointment in August 2021. Did he or anyone else on the Board of Aldermen make a call or send an email submitting another name, male or female? NOPE. Nick was reappointed for another three-year term beginning Sept. 1, 2021. Apparently the mayor is more focused on the “fight” than he is with the “issue”. That smells like a control issue.
6. The current process is NOT broken.
Many opponents to this change have persuasively argued, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. There are no complaints against current Nashua Police Commissioners, all of whom are local residents who have served the city in this role with distinction. This is a critical, yet widely overlooked, component of this debate. We have a system of oversight that is working flawlessly. Nobody has adequately addressed the “necessity” of this charter change as required by the city charter itself when making any charter change.
7. Mayor Donchess’ motives are unclear.
The mayor has chosen this issue as the priority issue for Nashua, despite many other pressing issues relative to the pandemic, public health, downtown revitalization, taxes, spending, schools, opioid crisis, and more. His effort was launched late spring with an urgent call to pass this change so he can “reign in” police department spending, before quietly withdrawing that claim after the budget was quickly resolved. Then the mayor pivoted to “local control” arguments before eventually claiming this move is urgently needed to ensure women are appointed to the police commission.
The reasons he offers for this reform deserve scrutiny, discussion, and review. However, they do not add up to persuasive urgent arguments to change the status quo and empower the mayor to have total control over the appointment process of Nashua Police Commissioners.
Voters are urged to reject this call for reform over the police commission and move in a more thoughtful direction.
What can you do now?
- Talk about this issue with your friends, families, and neighbors to bring awareness about a decision that affects ALL of Nashua.
(There are signs available if you would like to show your support).
- Call or Email the alderman elected in your ward to let them know that you are opposed to this charter change and how this rush to act can negatively affect the Nashua community. Contact information for all aldermen are on the NashuaNH.gov website : https://www.nashuanh.gov/514/Board-of-Aldermen
Democrats, Republicans, & Independents are coming together to Oppose Question #2. CLICK HERE to see the list.
This is NOT a partisan issue. Even many of the current Board of Aldermen, who are the same party as the Mayor, have publicly taken a vocal stand in opposition to Question #2 and openly questioned the Mayor’s motives. CLICK HERE to see comments from Alderman-At-Large Ben Clemons.
Additionally, three different Aldermen wrote a letter to the Union Leader voicing their strong concerns and urging voters to vote NO on Question #2: Aldermen Lori Wilshire (President, Board of Aldermen), Mike O’Brien (Vice President, Board of Aldermen), and June Caron (Ward 7) CLICK HERE
On Friday October 29, 2021, three aldermen, all Democrats, took to Nashua public TV to drive home the point that there is “a leadership problem in Nashua…with a mayor who has lost all objectivity” and urged everyone to VOTE NO on Question 2. CLICK TO WATCH
- It is important to especially take note of the six current aldermen that voted FOR this police charter change:
Jan Schmidt - Ward 1 -SchmidtJ@NashuaNH.gov
Patricia Klee - Ward 3 -KleeP@NashuaNH.gov
Thomas Lopez - Ward 4 -LopezT@NashuaNH.gov
Ernest Jette - Ward 5 -JetteE@NashuaNH.gov
Skip Cleaver - Ward 8 -CleaverS@NashuaNH.gov
L. Gathright - Ward 9 -GathrightL@NashuaNH.gov
Most of these aldermen are currently up for re-election on this November 2nd ballot…so please take that into consideration when casting your vote if you are a resident in one of these particular wards.
- Give the discussion process enough time to work and move a decision this impactful to the major election in 2023 so options can be discussed, IF it is determined that we have a problem (which has not yet been proven); clearly it is too big for a midterm election only a few weeks away. (Nov. 2nd)
- Get out and VOTE on November 2nd. Your vote DOES matter!
If you can't make it to the polls on Nov. 2, you may qualify for an absentee ballot.
Go to the NashuaNH.gov website. CLICK HERE
Board of Aldermen members Lori Wilshire, President (D),
Mike O’Brien Sr. (D), Vice President, and Ben Clemons (D), Alderman At-Large urge voters to VOTE NO on Ballot Question 2, Police Commission Change.
On Tuesday November 2, 2021 Nashua residents headed to the polls to weigh in on this issue. The outcome was a resounding “NO on question 2”. The final ballot counts were: 8,960 in opposition (NO), and 4,944 in support (YES). The majority of voters in every ward voted NO.