Local Groups Host Town Council Candidates’ Forum

“I have never moderated a forum before, except when my kids were fighting,” Jennifer Lague cracked as she opened the Town Council Candidates’ Forum.

The event took place Thursday, Feb. 11 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Lague’s group, Bringing Derry Together, joined the Taylor Library and the VFW for the second annual Candidates’ Forum. The Council candidates had their say on Feb. 11, with the School Board candidates scheduled for Feb. 18.

Richard Tripp, Town Councilor and VFW member, sketched the rules. Each candidate would have two minutes to introduce themselves. They would have one minute to answer questions, with Candace Andrews, Taylor Library Trustee Chairman, as timekeeper. They would each have two minutes for a closing statement.

Candidates attending were Brian Chirichiello, Charles Foote, Randall Kelley, David Milz, Jim Morgan, and Leonard Perkins. Incumbents Tom Cardon and Al Dimmock were absent along with challenger Marc Flattes.

Opening statements

Perkins is a candidate for the Councilor at Large seat currently occupied by Mark Osborne, who is not running. Perkins said he is retired military and is used to dealing with budgets and planning. While he hasn’t held elected office in Derry, he’s done everything from selling Christmas trees at the Masonic Temple to coaching youth sports.

“I want to give back to the town, and help figure out where we want to go as a community,” he said.

Milz, a candidate for Councilor at Large, is also a veteran, serving during the Vietnam War with the Air Force. He is a Republican state representative and a former Town Councilor.

Milz expressed his fondness for Derry, saying that as airline employees, he and his wife, Pamela, lived all over the United States. “This is the only place we wanted to come back to,” he said. Milz said he wouldn’t make “empty promises” but would work with the Council and community.

Morgan, a candidate for Councilor at Large, is a former Bedford resident who shepherded the drive to get Bedford its own high school. He learned the art of compromise through that process, working with many different groups to bring the school to fruition.

He said, “I thought I was out of politics in 2004,” but after moving to Derry in 2007 he became concerned about declining property values and increased taxes. A business owner, he said he’s managed budgets and wants to build community.

Chirichiello, a candidate for the District 4 seat currently occupied by Dimmock, is a former Councilor, former Planning Board member and current Republican state representative. He decided to run again because of last year’s budget controversy, he said.

He listed specific tasks before the town, including hiring a Town Administrator, and said he could be helpful. “I’ve been through that process three times,” Chirichiello said.

Kelley, a candidate for the District 4 seat, has owned several businesses and managed budgets. His level of “passion, commitment and perseverance” make him a good choice for Council, he said. He was inspired to run when he found his girlfriend upset about the cancellation of Derryfest, he said.

Foote, a candidate for the District 2 seat currently occupied by Cardon, said he is an Army veteran and past president of the East Derry Parent Teacher Association (PTA). With five children, he’s coached a variety of youth sports. He said he wanted to get involved after observing the “turmoil” of the past year, when Councilors made deep budget cuts and residents took them first to court, then through a special election to get the cuts restored.

“I want to be part of the solution, not the problem,” he said.

Leading by example

Lague led with the first question, “What is the role of a Town Councilor?”

Milz said it should be that of an overseer and not a micromanager. “You need to make sure the administrator is running all the departments well,” he said.

Foote observed, “You are a representative of the people.” The town’s organizational chart has the Council at the top, he said, but there’s someone over them – the people.

“You are the gatekeeper of waste and the visionary of hope,” Morgan said.

Building staff

Resident Mary Till asked the candidates what they considered to be the role of the Council in relation to the Town Administrator, and what they are looking for in that position.

Chirichiello said the town needs someone with experience running a community the size of Derry. The Administrator should be able to maintain good relationships with department heads and be well-versed in New Hampshire law, he said.

“And the Council should not micromanage that person,” he added.

“They have to know every branch of our government,” Kelley said. “What we need, what we don’t need.”

Milz said the Council isn’t qualified to make that decision on its own. He supports hiring an outside firm, and also setting up two review boards, one of residents and one of department heads, to vet the best candidate.

Morgan expressed concern that the town hasn’t been able to hire and retain a Town Administrator.

He and other candidates also expressed the desire for a full-time Economic Development Director and a full-time Human Resources Director. The HR director position was cut last spring and when the money was reinstated in the fall, the current Council chose to hire a part-time HR Director and use the savings for a part-time Economic Development Director. William Scimone was hired as HR Director, and the Economic Development position has not yet been filled.

Line-by-line analysis

The candidates last week said they supported going through the budget line-by-line and questioning department heads about their needs. That process has fallen out of favor in the past few years, but some members of the current Council want to see it returned.

Chirichiello championed the line-by-line process, noting, “Yes, it takes time.” But that’s what candidates sign on for when they run for Councilor, he added.

Prompted by resident Ernie St. Pierre, the candidates discussed the Veterans Tax Credit, which is currently $350 per year. The state allows a $500 tax credit.

“It’s disgusting how we treat our veterans,” Morgan said. “We are $150 away from something people risk their lives for.”

Morgan said he also supported looking at the tax credit for seniors, noting, “The elderly struggle too. We need to invest in the seniors that invested.

Chirichiello noted that he sponsored a bill to increase the allowable Veterans Credit to $750, but it was deemed Inexpedient To Legislate.

Getting Derry’s name out

Terri Pastori, a local attorney and member of the town’s Economic Development Committee, asked candidates how they would foster an environment to attract businesses.

Morgan recommended hiring the right people and following the Master Plan.

Costs will go up, he said, and the only way to keep pace is to increase the tax base.

“Economic development has been derailed so many times,” Milz observed. “We need to have a plan, and stick to the plan.”

Working with the schools

Resident Missy Benson asked the candidates how they would foster a relationship with the Derry School Board and Pinkerton Academy.

Milz said a meeting was held during his time as Councilor, but talks bogged down after that. “We have to help the school,” he said. “We have to give them what they need, but in a cost-effective manner.”

“The relationship between the town and the School District boggles my mind,” Morgan said, noting that when he fought for a high school for Bedford, there were two Town Councilors on the committee.

The potential Councilors reiterated their willingness to serve, with Foote saying, “I’ve had two kidney transplants. Last year I thought I would not be here. I am comparing that situation to Derry.”

The School Board candidate forum is Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. at the VFW on Railroad Avenue.