Commissioner rivals dispute recent success, need for change

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories appearing before the Nov. 4 election that will examine state and county races.

Where the incumbent sees a successful first term as Hillsborough County commissioner, his challenger sees a need for a change.

Democrat Michael Clemons and Republican Kevin Gage, both former elected officials in Nashua, are running for the county’s District 2 seat, which represents Nashua, Hollis, Hudson and Pelham.

The commission consists of three members and controls the county budget, manages property such as the nursing home and jail, and oversees contract negotiations.

Clemons was elected to the county commissioner position in 2006, defeating five-term incumbent Rhona Charbonneau in a tight race. He recently retired from his position as assistant principal at Manchester Central High School. He was a member of the Nashua Board of Education for eight years.

Gage is a former Nashua alderman, representing the city’s Ward 3 for six years. He was elected to the city’s fire commission in November 2007.

Gage worked as a deputy sheriff for Hillsborough County until 2002, when he said he transitioned into private security management.

“I think we have had a couple of years that we have not gone in the direction I would like to see the county go in,” Gage said, when asked why he was running.

As part of his campaign platform in 2006, Clemons said he was going to focus on addressing the structural needs of the county’s buildings.

Clemons said he has delivered on that campaign promise, citing two examples: approximately $1 million to refurbish the county courthouse on Pine Street in Manchester and repairs to the air conditioning system at the county jail.

The courthouse had issues with a leaky roof, plumbing and asbestos, Clemons said, and the air conditioning problems at the jail were “causing tremendous stress among inmates and employees.”

The funding for refurbishing the courthouse came from the state and the $50,000 to $75,000 needed for the jail project came from a surplus that had accumulated in the county’s budget, he said.

Clemons came into the position at time when all six union contracts were at impasse. He said that by June of this year, all of the contracts had been settled.

“A lot of it dealt with the fact that the commissioners were very tight with the money, to the point where they were destroying morale at some of the facilities,” Clemons said.

As part of his campaign, Gage said he has been talking with county employees and department heads about their needs. Gage said he has heard complaints about a lack of communication from the county commissioners, including Clemons.

“You’ve got to be able to talk to your employees, and they’ve got to be able to talk to you,” he said.

Gage said controlling spending would also be a priority, should he be elected.
Clemons said the tax rate increase in Hillsborough County has been at about 3 percent for each of his two years in office. He credited that to good budgeting techniques.

But Gage argued that more could be done to reduce the tax burden.

“We’ve had many years where it’s been less than that,” he said.

Gage said he would be more frugal with the way money is spent, looking for areas for possible savings without cutting into essential services. He said he would do that by talking with department heads and looking at their needs and wants come budget time.

Gage said an issue that will have to be dealt with in the coming years is the increased burden of covering Medicaid costs shifted to the county level.

Clemons also said that given the tough economic times, he would continue to keep a close eye on spending.

He said he voted against the budget in 2007 because he wanted more of the surplus to go toward reducing the tax rate.

Gage said during his time as an alderman, customer service was important to him, a philosophy he said he would bring to the county commissioner position.

“In my six years, I went out and worked hard for folks,” he said. “I sat in driveways and watched the traffic issues. I helped walk people through City Hall.”

Gage said he would want to see minutes and agendas for county commission meetings posted on the Internet. He said that to get access to minutes, he had to go to the office in Goffstown.


OFFICE SOUGHT: Hillsborough County commissioner, District 2.

AGE: 62.

ADDRESS: 177 Kinsley St., Nashua.

YEARS OF RESIDENCE: Lifelong resident.

POLITICAL BACKGROUND: Nashua Board of Education, 2000-08; Hillsborough County commissioner, District 2, 2006-present.

OCCUPATION: Retired school administrator.

EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in social studies, Keene State College; master’s degree in school administration, Rivier College; certificate of advanced graduate studies in leadership and administration, Rivier College.

AFFILIATIONS: Nashua Democratic City Committee; member of advisory board for Nashua Salvation Army; member of Appalachian Mountain Club.


PERSONAL: Married, three sons.


OFFICE SOUGHT: Hillsborough County commissioner, District 2.

AGE: 40.

ADDRESS: 29 Cabot Drive, Nashua.

YEARS OF RESIDENCE: Lifelong resident.

POLITICAL BACKGROUND: Nashua Board of Aldermen, 2000-06; member, Nashua Fire Commission, 2008-present.

OCCUPATION: Health-care security manager.

EDUCATION: Criminal justice degree from Dean College.

AFFILIATIONS: Nashua Republican City Committee; International Association of Healthcare Safety and Security; National Rifle Association; Manchester Firing Line; Knights of Columbus; St. Patrick’s Parish, Nashua.


PERSONAL: Married, with two children.