Democracy Wins in Huge Town Election Turnout

When all the votes were in, the real winner was democracy.

Derry went to the polls Tuesday, Oct. 13, in a special election to decide on eight “referendum petitions” submitted by townspeople in a reaction to Town Council budget decisions in May. While the petitioners won, sometimes by a narrow margin, sometimes by a wide one, the leaders on both sides of the issue agreed that the biggest win was to see 6,000 residents casting ballots (See related story page 1).

Voters made their opinions known on the following:

• Article 1, to repeal the action to reduce four full-time fire positions: 3,530 yes, 2,526 no, a difference of 1,004 votes;

• Article 2, to repeal the action cutting fire overtime by $436,680: 3,246 yes, 2,803 no, a difference of 443 votes;

• Article 3, to repeal the action cutting police overtime by $150,000: 3,220 yes, 2,818 no, a difference of 402 votes;

• Article 4, to repeal the action to cut Department of Public Works (DPW) overtime by $60,000: 3,180 yes, 2,160 no, a difference of 320 votes;

• Article 5, to repeal the action to reduce four full-time police positions, 3,401 yes, 2,612 no, a difference of 789 votes;

• Article 6, to repeal the action to reduce two full-time DPW positions, 3,176 yes, 2,833 no, difference of 343 votes;

• Article 7, to repeal the action to eliminate the position of Human Resources Director, 3,028 yes, 2,971 no, difference of 57 votes; and

• Article 8, to repeal the action to close one of Derry’s four fire stations, 3,494 yes, 2,490 no, difference of 1,004 votes.

The smallest “gap” between totals was the 57 votes between proponents of keeping the Human Resources position and those who want to keep it eliminated. The largest gaps were seen in two fire-related petitions, the one to restore four firefighting positions and the one to reopen a fire station, each of which showed a “gap” of 1,004 votes.

The referendum was presented by a coalition of residents concerned about the budget votes made by a 4-3 majority of the Councilors May 19. The eight petitions asked the Council to overturn its votes on cutting police personnel, cutting police overtime, cutting fire personnel, cutting fire overtime, cutting DPW personnel, cutting DPW overtime, eliminating the position of Human Resources Director and closing a fire station.

While the cuts saved more than a million dollars and reduced the tax rate by $1.21, many residents expressed concern that essential services were affected. A group of residents crafted the “referendum petitions,” which required the Council to reverse its vote on each petition item or to hold a Special Election to allow the voters their say. In a July 28 meeting, a majority of the Council declined to reverse its vote and declined to offer a Special Election, after which residents Brian Chirichiello, Neil Wetherbee and Jenna Paradise took the town to court.

Judge David Anderson ruled in Superior Court on Sept. 14 that the petitioners were in the right, and the town appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. But the Council also voted unanimously Sept. 23 to set a date for the election in the event that the appeal failed. The appeal failed and the election was held Oct. 13.

The election brought out 6,000 voters, and Renee Routhier, chairman of the Supervisors of the Checklist, wrote in an e-mail that the election attracted 316 new registrations and at least 50 changes. She wrote regarding the latter, “Lots of changes are written in the checklist so we won’t know for sure until we actually make the changes.”