As Rancor Continues, Split Council Accepts Ventilators

The Derry Town Council has reversed a previous vote not to allow the acceptance of a grant for Portable Transport Ventilators.

The Council voted to reconsider the motion on the grant 4-3, and then approved acceptance of the grant 4-3 at the Jan. 7 Council meeting.

In the Dec. 17 meeting, the Council held a public hearing on whether to accept a grant from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services for four HT-70 Portable Transport Ventilators.

The funds to purchase the units originally came from Homeland Security, and were earmarked for use in a Critical Care and Supplemental Oxygen Program. Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director George Klauber said at the time that the units would replace the hand-held “bag” units, as they are automated, and would free up a pair of hands in an emergency. In addition to being used on Derry ambulances, Klauber said the ventilators would be useful in a large-scale emergency.

Klauber estimated that about $1,250 worth of disposable equipment would be needed to supplement use of the ventilators, but he added that those funds were already in his budget. Calibration of the units would be $600 per year, a sum that was also already in his budget, he said.

After the public hearing, Chairman Michael Fairbanks had made a motion to postpone a vote on the grant until Jan. 7, but the vote was a tie and thus the motion failed. Councilor Brad Benson objected, noting that in the previous meeting the Council had agreed to postpone the vote until Councilor Neil Wetherbee, who could not attend Dec. 17, could be present.

Wetherbee was present Jan. 7, and Benson made a motion to reconsider the acceptance of the grant, which was seconded by Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores. The vote was 4-3 to reconsider, with Councilors Mark Osborne, Thomas Cardon and Albert Dimmock voting against it.

Benson then made a motion to approve the grant, seconded by Katsakiores. Dimmock interrupted on a point of order, stating that Wetherbee was voting illegally.

“How can you vote to reconsider something when you weren’t there for the first vote?” Dimmock asked. “You can’t come in now and try to vote for something you couldn’t vote for before.”

Dimmock also questioned Katsakiores for voting on the issue, noting that she had a relative who works for the Fire Department. Her son-in-law, Chuck Hemeon, is EMS (Emergency Medical Services) director for the department. “Her vote should be null and void,” Dimmock said.

Fairbanks said it’s up to the individual Councilor to decide whether it’s a conflict of interest.

Wetherbee told Dimmock, “As long as I sit on this Council, I have a right to vote much to your dismay, Al.”

Fairbanks asked Wetherbee to “cut the sarcasm.”

Cardon said he thought Wetherbee had decided “not to worry about” the Dec. 17 meeting. “When I see an agenda item, I vote,” Cardon said.

But Fairbanks said he took responsibility for having the item on the agenda and that it had been for discussion purposes only.

The vote was held with Katsakiores, Benson, Fairbanks and Wetherbee voting in favor of accepting the equipment and Cardon, Dimmock and Osborne voting against it.

The issue surfaced again in the public comment portion of the meeting, with resident Mark Flattes referring to Section 12 of the Town Charter (“Decorum”) and stating that Benson had violated it by referring to other Council members as “arrogant.” In the Dec. 17 meeting, Benson had referenced an “arrogance” among the three new Councilors, Dimmock, Cardon and Osborne. Dimmock had responded by saying, “You can be as arrogant as anybody, Brad.”

“I am tired of it,” Flattes said of the Council disagreements.

Flattes also charged, using Section 14:3-A, that it was an ethical violation for Katsakiores to vote on the medical equipment, and an ethical violation to have Wetherbee vote to reconsider an issue he hadn’t originally voted on.

Fairbanks reiterated that it was up to the individual Councilor, whereas Flattes referred to the charter again and said that Councilors should recuse themselves even if there is an appearance of conflict.

“I would like you to take a look at both issues,” he said.