Alderman says cash donations are 'dirty money'

NASHUA – An alderman has accused two fire commissioners of accepting “dirty money” from firefighters knowing their board would be negotiating a labor contract with the union.

Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom also criticized some of his colleagues for accepting campaign contributions from unions. He asked the city attorney for an opinion on whether the contributions were proper.

In turn, the fire commissioners and several aldermen countered that union contributions are part of the political landscape. Teeboom should find something better to do with his time than complain about the contributions, they said.

The amount of union contributions ranged from $250 to $3,000, Teeboom noted.

Worse than aldermen accepting the campaign gifts was that fire commissioners Paul Garant and Ralph Kelloway Jr. received money last year when they ran for seats on the board and knew they’d be negotiating with the union, Teeboom said.

Both Garant and Kelloway accepted $250 donations for the Nashua firefighters union.

“That is ‘dirty money,’ ” Teeboom wrote in an e-mail to The Telegraph. The e-mail was attached to another e-mail to Mayor Donnalee Lozeau praising her for vetoing the cost items in the firefighters contract.

In a phone conversation later, Teeboom said it didn’t matter that the amount of the campaign contributions was small.

“I turned down a $1,000 contribution from Pennichuck when I campaigned for alderman in 2005 (having expressed my opposition to acquiring Pennichuck by eminent domain) for I considered that ‘dirty money,’ ” Teeboom wrote.

“These folks having taken this money cannot feel but compromised, arguing and voting in favor of the fire union contracts, knowing these unions do not give money just to be charitable, but expect a return on their investment,” he wrote.

Several of the officials he blasted noted that in a previous election campaign Teeboom accepted contributions from the Nashua Taxpayers Association, which they said is similar to taking money from a union.

The elected officials also said Teeboom’s comments were off base.

“If Mr. Teeboom believes my integrity can be purchased for $500, Mr. Teeboom doesn’t know me,” Garant said. “I resent Mr. Teeboom’s characterization.”

Garant said he has run twice for a seat on the fire commission.

“The first year, I spent a lot of money to get elected. That was all my money. Not one penny came from any other contributor,” he said.

The second time, Garant accepted a $500 contribution from the firefighters union.

“No one is going to get me to do something for $500,” he said.

Garant also noted that he donated the stipend he receives for serving on the commission to the Salvation Army and other charities.

Kelloway called Teeboom “delusional” and asked where the alderman got his insight into Kelloway’s character.

“This is a guy who sees a sign for a play and he thinks the Nazi Party is in town,” Kelloway said, referring to an issue Teeboom raised last month about a swastika used on a poster to promote a play about a post-World War II investigation into suspected Nazis.

Kelloway, who served 28 years as a firefighter before retiring, said Teeboom has shown only disrespect for the fire department, city employees and other city officials.

Teeboom also said it was improper for his colleagues to accept campaign contributions from city unions. He said that in last year’s election six aldermen accepted such contributions:

Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, $1,500 from the firefighters union and $500 from the teachers union;

Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire, $1,500 from firefighters and $500 from teachers;

Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons, $2,500 from local and state firefighter associations and $500 from the teachers union;

Ward 4 Alderman Marc Plamondon, $500 from city firefighters.

Ward 6 Alderman Paul Chasse, Jr., $250 from city teachers;

and Ward 9 Alderman Jeffrey Cox, $500 from the firefighters, and $250 from the teachers.

Clemons said he and other candidates got surveys from various groups, unions included. Some groups interviewed candidates, such as the firefighters union and chamber of commerce, Clemons said.

“That’s what happens during an election,” Clemons said.

In those interviews, Clemons shared his vision for the city, which as a top priority had settling unresolved union contracts.

“It comes from my belief that in order to run an organization well, you have to have employees that are respected, you have to have employees that are paid well, and you have to have employees that are happy to be where they are,” Clemons said.

An organization can’t achieve that without giving employees raises, Clemons said.

Clemons said he was pleased to receive contributions from the firefighters and teachers unions.

Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy responded, “I don’t have a lot of comment on it other than, consider the source.”

McCarthy said campaign contributions don’t buy votes.

“No one ever donates to a political campaign other than for the reason that the candidate sees things the way they do,” McCarthy said.

It’s no more inappropriate for aldermen to accept contributions from unions than it is to take any other contribution offered to them, McCarthy said.

As for Teeboom accepting contributions from the Nashua Taxpayers Association, “I don’t see it as being vastly different,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy added, “It’s a fairly black day when all we do is sit back and hurl rocks at each other instead of offering facts and opinions to sway others on the board.”

Chasse said of union contributions, “Everybody accepts them. The only one who gave me any money was the teachers union – and they didn’t endorse me.”

Chasse said he told the teachers union he would not vote for a contract if it meant overriding the city’s spending cap. He said if a contract was fair and came in under the cap, he would support it.

Receiving money “wouldn’t swing my vote,” Chasse said. “I am my own person, and I look out for all the residents of the city of Nashua” and not a particular union or group.

Wilshire, Plamondon and Cox couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday night.

Some officials also responded to remarks Teeboom made at the last aldermen’s meeting. Teeboom said he had a problem with the firefighters union for trumpeting that they risked their lives, when other city workers, such as police and teachers, do the same.

He also said firefighters shouldn’t receive overtime for sleeping in firehouses during their shifts.

“I refuse to comment on Mr. Teeboom’s inflammatory and unfounded statements,” Garant said in response.

Kelloway said that during his years as a firefighter, “I don’t remember waking up and saying, ‘Wow, what a great night of sleep I had.’ ”

He added that Teeboom seems to think that firefighters come to work “to sleep and take money from the city.”

Teeboom’s comment “shows his disdain for the fire department and for that group of city employees. I don’t think that’s an appropriate statement,” Clemons said.