NASHUA — Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said Wednesday that a former city employee used poor judgment when authorizing nearly $1,500 in food purchases from The Sausage King while working on the downtown sidewalk project.
On Tuesday, the Board of Public Works met in a non-public meeting to discuss concerns by the city treasurer, David Fredette, after recently reviewing financial records for the Main Street renovations.
"He was concerned with what he was seeing. There were charges that concerned him," Lozeau said Wednesday.
Those revelations were brought to the attention of the mayor and the director of Public Works, Lisa Fauteux.
"Basically, what we have, is an employee that used poor judgment. If the person was still with the city, we would probably take action," said Lozeau.
The employee, who Lozeau would not identify, left the city under their own terms and not because of any disciplinary action or anything related to this situation.
Between August and November of 2012, while public works crews were installing a new sidewalk on block one of Main Street directly in front of The Sausage King, nearly $1,500 in meals were purchased with taxpayer money for city workers, according to Lozeau.
Staff are still trying to determine how many meals were purchased during that timeframe, and the treasurer is sifting through receipts, said the mayor.
While the city does have an account that allows food purchases for city employees on occasion, Lozeau said the extent of these purchases would not have been approved by the Public Works director.
"It was nothing illegal, but it happened more often than we would like," she said.
The city employee, who had authorization to approve charges, would write a purchase order for the meals and then authorize payment.
Essentially, Lozeau said an account was opened at the downtown restaurant, and when food was purchased — a few times a month for three or four months — a receipt would be provided to the employee and that worker would authorize it to be paid with city funds.
Although there are legitimate funds available to pay for meals for city employees working on the job, it is primarily used during snowstorms when crews are working extended hours, or when employees are asked to work overtime or cannot leave a work site, the mayor said.
"There are appropriate times and places for this," she said. "This jumped out because it was more often than we would have liked. Now, we have to make sure safeguards are in place to make sure staff authorized payments are clear, and what those limits are. We thought that they were clear, but apparently they were not for at least one individual."
The Board of Public Works commissioners, according to Lozeau, are concerned and unhappy about the situation and are looking for ways to prevent the improper spending.
"There is a balance, and when someone makes a mistake, we have to make sure it doesn't happen again," she added.
Dave Manganello, owner of The Sausage King on Main Street, says he is worried about having his name associated with the issue.
"I don't see this as such a big scandal," he said on Wednesday. "I don't think what they did was a problem. We were the perfect option for them. Some of my tax dollars paid for this."
While the city crews were working outside of his restaurant, Manganello said his business suffered.
"I looked at it as an opportunity to salvage some lost business. Look, the guys have to eat. I would do it again," he said. "I am not taking political sides, but I defend the city. I don't think the city did anything wrong."
He stressed that the workers were not buying anything extravagant, maintaining he doesn't have a meal over $10. In addition, he said, the employees often came in and purchased their own drinks.
"My fear is that my brand being involved in this story will be seen as bad to potential customers, when I don't think what they did was a problem," added Manganello.
Alderman-at-Large Mark Cookson, liaison to the Board of Public Works, said the problem is not a reflection on the restaurant.
"But, this is $1,500 of taxpayer money going to sausages," said Cookson. "I am very disappointed that this would take place. Ever since the beginning of this project, the public works employees have been scrutinized. It is not a good reflection on the work that they have done. I am highly disappointed."
It raises doubt about whether other questionable purchases have been approved by city employees, said Cookson, contending the safeguards in place should be revisited.
"We should be more accountable to the taxpayers, and I think the Board of Public Works should do a review of this, and it sounds like that is already happening," said Cookson.
The unusual purchases were noticed by the city treasurer after a local newspaper filed a Right-to-Know request seeking purchase orders related to the restaurant, said Lozeau.