Heritage Chair Arrested for Speaking Out at Council Meeting

Karen Blandford-Anderson expected to find controversy when she attended last week’s Special Meeting of the Derry Town Council.

She never dreamed she would be escorted out of the meeting, arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.

Blandford-Anderson, a parent, chairman of the Derry Heritage Commission and member of the Derry Economic Development Committee, was escorted out by police after she objected to the Council’s decision to adjourn the meeting.

The meeting was called for the Council to discuss the resolution of eight petitions submitted by community members who were unhappy with the May 19 budget vote (see related story page 1). The 4-3 vote gave Council approval to deep budget cuts, including cuts to police personnel and overtime, fire personnel and overtime, public works personnel and overtime, the closing of a fire station, and the elimination of the Human Resources Director position. The new budget cut the tax rate by $1.21, but many residents thought the cuts went too deep.

The “referendum petitions” were presented to the public June 8 and 12 and received more than 800 signatures. According to the town charter, the items in a referendum petition should be re-voted by the Council and if the Council declines or does not overturn its vote, a special election is warranted.

In the July 28 meeting, Council Chair Tom Cardon said that a second opinion from the outside law firm Devine, Millimet of Manchester proved that a referendum petition cannot be used to overturn a Council budget vote.

Blandford-Anderson and other residents were upset by not having a chance to speak or to vote. She refused to leave the Council chambers and was escorted out.

Three other people were escorted out of the meeting as well, according to Derry Police Capt. Vern Thomas, but Blandford-Anderson was the only one arrested and charged. She has a court date of Aug. 20, he said.

Blandford-Anderson said she hadn’t planned to take the stand she did. But as she listened to the Council, she said her frustration grew. “They feel so strongly they are in the right, but they won’t explain why, even though a large group of residents is asking them to reconsider their vote,” she said in a phone interview Monday.

Blandford-Anderson added, “We would like to know what led them to make the decisions they made, to make the cuts they made.”

She said she’s disturbed about terms some of the Council members have used in the past, such as referring to those who disagree with the cuts as a “mob” and “special interest group.”

She reached her own boiling point when, after the Council voted 4-3 that the petitions were not valid, Cardon quickly adjourned the meeting. Councilors Phyllis Katsakiores and Joshua Bourdon, on the losing side, tried to speak “and they were gaveled,” she said.

Blandford-Anderson was also on the front lines last summer, when she was part of a group of residents concerned about the School Board’s move of the Next Charter School to West Running Brook Middle School. She spoke out then, she said, but “I thought carefully about what I wanted to say. I planned it.”

Tuesday night, July 28, was something different, and members of the community were as surprised as she was when she took her stand.

“People were surprised it was me,” she said. “And that should tell you something about how important this is.”

Blandford-Anderson doesn’t necessarily want to see higher taxes, and she agrees that Derry’s tax burden is heavy. “But you can’t keep cutting,” she said.

And she’s concerned that cutting back on police, fire and infrastructure will stall economic development, which she calls the real key to keeping taxes down. She’s all for quirky small businesses to revitalize downtown, but she said the bigger corporations are needed to make a difference, and she doubts that will happen with the 2016 budget cuts.

“My frustration,” she said, “is that the four Councilors are not seeing the bigger picture.”

Blandford-Anderson isn’t sure how she’ll plead on Aug. 20. She’s never had to, she said, because “I’ve never been arrested before. I think I got a speeding warning once, when I was living in Rhode Island in 1980.”