Bring in the Lawyer

Getting a lawyer’s opinion, or acting out of fear of what a lawyer might do, more and more appears as a guiding principle of town government these days.

In Londonderry, motivated by fear of lawsuits by potential developers, a multitude of variances were granted for workforce housing in single-family residential neighborhoods, Now the town has amended its zoning code out of that same fear.

We all too frequently see Londonderry officials turn to legal counsel whenever they don’t want to make a decision that might upset some residents. Who should be in charge of the town forest, and whether it should actually be a forest – that should be something the Town Council could address or put before the voters as a warrant article. Instead, it’s going to town legal counsel.

As is how the Londonderry Old Home Day Committee should handle politicking. We are ardent proponents of free speech, but common sense is a great help in decision making. We wouldn’t expect a presidential hopeful to ask to chat up kindergarteners, and that should be the kind of thought process that goes into deciding whether a politician should be politicking at Kidz Night, as happened this year.

Meanwhile in Sandown, the Board of Selectmen is heading to its lawyer to determine whether the chairman’s action on a motion was appropriate, and whether it can contact the state with a discontinued minority committee’s report on withdrawal from the Timberlane Regional School District.

While getting a legal opinion is not a bad thing – in some cases, it clarifies the question and provides common sense – town behavior these days is costing taxpayers quite a bit of money, and the legal line in the budget is often overexpended.

New Hampshire’s approach to questioning town decisions also requires the questioner to go to court, with more legal expenses to the town to defend its position. We saw that in Derry, where taxpayers had to spend thousands of dollars to challenge the Town Council’s action on citizen petitions, a position that also required multiple opinions from a lawyer. The citizens won, after lots of money was spent.

We’d like to suggest that as the towns seem to want a legal position before they make any major decision, they consider having their lawyer attend all their meetings. We realize there are times where a specialized lawyer would still be required, but in most cases, a staff attorney could handle routine questions.

We don’t normally advocate spending more money, but it’s being spent anyway. The legal challenges won’t go away. And having an attorney present would save time, if nothing else.