The Derry Town Council defended its town staff against a resident’s allegations that town employees are making needless or unauthorized purchases at the end of the year, in order to use up the funds in their budget lines.
Resident John Burtis, in the “public forum” section of the May 21 meeting, expanded on an earlier allegation that department heads were going to stores and acquiring last-minute items to expend their budget lines.
“In these days when nobody has any money, I am asking the Town Administrator to put his foot down,” Burtis said. For department heads, that means accounting for their purchases, Burtis said, adding, “It should be justified, especially if it’s done that next-to-last day of the year.”
Burtis said he could name at least one department head who practiced what he alleged, and when Councilors pressed him, he said he had observed Fire Chief George Klauber “picking up a bunch of stuff at the end of the year. He told me what he was doing.”
“Were these items approved in the budget?” Town Administrator John Anderson asked.
Burtis acknowledged that in Klauber’s case, the money was approved in the budget. But he made the suggestion that Anderson look at May and June expenditures of past years, and look for spikes in spending. “You might want to see what they spent, and for what,” Burtis said.
Councilor Neil Wetherbee objected to the “insinuation” that town employees were doing anything wrong.
Burtis responded, “I’m insinuating that the council and administration might want to look at what’s being spent in May and June.”
Councilor Brad Benson said the allegations “troubled” him. Benson said, “It’s an insinuation that people who work very hard for this town are doing something illegal and unethical, and that’s what troubles me.”
The Council chairman signs off on purchase orders for larger items at the beginning of the year in order to avoid the “back-loading” of purchases referred to by Burtis.
Benson said, “We are trying to control the back-end loading, and Mr. Anderson and his staff have done a good job of that.
“If they’re spending it or not, it’s not going to help you as a taxpayer,” Benson added. “All purchase orders are approved. We try to control expenses.”
Benson emphasized that the town followed a policy of having all purchase orders approved, and to his knowledge, “They follow it religiously.”
Benson warned Burtis, “Once you say these things, people believe them.”
But Burtis maintained that he was a “little guy” and would end up paying for it.