Council Continues Policy on Visits by Politicians

The Derry Town Council will continue its policy of allowing seated town, state and national officials to meet with constituents on town property, while discouraging challengers to campaign in those same areas.

Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau brought the issue up at the June 17 Town Council meeting, noting he had received an e-mail from a concerned staff member about officials “electioneering” in town offices.

Budreau reminded the Council that the 2004 Town Administrator had put a policy in place to deny the request of any campaigning politician to visit the town offices and staff. “Imposing that rule,” Budreau said, “helps us avoid the perception of town employees campaigning.”

Budreau referred to RSA 659:44-A, prohibiting electioneering by town employees. “For example,” he said, “can a candidate for state senate come into the Fire Station? The practice of the town for the last several years has been not to allow it.” According to the RSA, Budreau said, “no public employee can electioneer during the performance of their official duties.” The violation of the RSA is a misdemeanor, Budreau said.

Councilor David Fischer observed that public officials campaigning in the town offices is “highly inappropriate,” and not just for the reasons stated. “It would interfere with the employees by talking to them during their work hours,” he pointed out.

The town policy also forbids people running for office from taking spots on the Council agenda, Budreau said, and Fischer agreed with that. “They can talk to people other than during work time, other than through our agenda,” he said.

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said, “Local politicians are different from national. What about Sen. Shaheen or Sen. Ayotte? They’re not here all the time.”

She was referring to the state’s two U.S. Senators. Jeanne Shaheen is running for re-election; Kelly Ayotte is in the middle of her term.

Budreau said the town policy recognizes the distinction between seated officials and campaigning candidates. Shaheen, Ayotte, Gov. Maggie Hassan and other seated officials are welcome to come and discuss policy or hear issues from constituents, he said.

But Councilor Michael Fairbanks said he had an issue with that distinction. “It is showing favoritism,” he said.

“We allow seated officials to visit,” Budreau said, to which Fairbanks countered, “How is that not electioneering?”

“It is not the purpose of their visit,” Budreau said. “It’s them coming in, and looking for a convenient place to meet with constituents.”

State Senate candidate Regina Birdsell, who is currently a state representative from Hampstead, and State Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry, were in the audience that night. Till said she was there in response to a comment in a previous Town Council meeting.

“I took it as an invitation for us to come to the Town Council and introduce ourselves,” she said. While it was her first “physical” meeting with the current seated Council, Till said she keeps up with Derry issues through televised meetings and the newspaper.

Birdsell did not speak.

Budreau said, “I will continue to enforce the policy set by the previous Council until directed otherwise.