NASHUA — The city could soon have a new leader in its legal department, as the mayor intends on recommending a new corporation counsel to handle Nashua’s legal matters.
Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said Thursday that she will bring forward a proposal to aldermen seeking the promotion of attorney Steve Bennett, whose current title is deputy corporation counsel for the city.
The city’s legal team has been without its top corporation counsel for several months, as attorney James McNamee has been on long-term disability. Since that time, Bennett has been serving as interim corporation counsel.
Lozeau said she is pleased to recommend Bennett for the head role. He has been working in the city’s legal department for nearly 15 years, serving as deputy corporation counsel since 1998.
Before his time with the city, Bennett was employed as a public defender in New Hampshire for almost 14 years. He was also a former partner at Elliot, Jasper and Bennett in Newport from 1979 to 1985.
“I look forward to voting for him,” Alderman-at-Large James Donchess said of Bennett.
Bennett received his law degree from Ohio Northern University Claude W. Pettit College of Law. He also has a degree in international studies from American University in Washington, D.C.
According to city officials, McNamee’s combination of sick time and sick bank ended in late January or early February. The city has since hired a third attorney to make up for his absence, according to Lozeau.
In addition to Bennett and attorney Dory Clark, there are also two paralegals working as part of the city’s legal team.
During an aldermanic Budget Review Committee on Thursday, at which time city officials reviewed several proposed department budgets for fiscal year 2014, the legal budget was discussed.
Bennett said he predicts a year-end budget surplus of under $40,000 next month. The new budget for the legal department is recommended at $533,457. Salaries and benefits consume most of that budget at more than $380,000.
According to the proposed legal budget, the corporation counsel will receive an annual salary of $113,556, the deputy corporation counsel will receive $103,308, the assistant corporation counsel will receive $68,894 and the two legal assistants will each receive about $48,000.
McNamee has consistently been one of the top wage earners in the city, receiving about $108,000 in 2012. McNamee served as corporation counsel for Nashua from 1996-2000, and from 2008 until his disability leave last year.
If Bennett’s promotion is supported by the Board of Aldermen in the coming weeks, he will be responsible for all legal matters and management practices impacting the city. Those duties include corporate governance, litigation, contracts, labor and employment.
On Thursday, Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly said she would prefer additional executive services for the board. Specifically, Pressly said one of the city’s attorneys should prioritize the needs of the Board of Aldermen to ensure that ordinances and resolutions adopted by city officials are being tracked and abided.
“We don’t have our own lawyer,” she said of the Board of Aldermen, recommending more legal assistance for the board.