Council Gives Preliminary OK to Revised Ethics Policy

The Derry Town Council has given preliminary approval to a more specific policy dealing with ethics and conflicts of interest.

At the Dec. 16 Town Council meeting, the Council reviewed a revised section of the Town Council Rules dealing with ethics. The review was the first reading of the revision. After a second reading, there will be a final vote to adopt the revisions.

Council Chair Mark Osborne, who asked for the update, said, “We in municipal government should lead the way in ethical behavior. The way the Council Rules defined ‘conflict of interest’ was weak. It didn’t give the Council guidance, it didn’t give the Chair guidance.”

The revisions are primarily to Section I, “Relations With the Community,” and the major revision is to Item (f).

Item (f) currently reads, “Remove themselves from decision making if they have a conflict of interest or even the appearance of one.” The revision would replace it with the following: “No Council member in his or her official capacity shall introduce, discuss, deliberate, approve or vote upon any matter in which he or she or any member of his or her family or business associate has an interest known to said member. Neither shall s/he knowingly enter into any discussion, testimony or deliberation without first, publicly and for the record, stating all dealings, interests, relationships and possible conflicts that may exist between said member, his or her family or business associate, the principals and the issue under deliberation, as may be known by the member. Violations may be subject to the Derry Town Charter Section 5.6, Removal of Councilors.”

A footnote to be added defines “conflict” as “any matter that could result in a direct/indirect financial, material, proprietary, real estate (i.e. property value) benefit to him/herself, a relative, business associate, or any private organization in which he/she has a personal, business, legal or political interest.”

The revision also changes the first sentence of Item 1 from “Council members in their relations with the community should” to “Council members in their relations with the community shall,” and changes “should” to “shall” in Item II, Relations with Town Administrator.

Osborne said the revisions have been reviewed by Town Administrator Galen Stearns, Assistant Town Administrator Larry Budreau, and an attorney at the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

Stearns reminded Councilors that the revisions require two readings and two votes. Last week their first vote to approve the revisions was 7-0. The second reading will take place at the first meeting in January.