The Town of Derry saw improvement in its business-friendliness, a strong grassroots effort to save open space, a change in two key players in town, and two elections that proved controversial by who wasn’t there. Here are some of the issues and people Derry talked about this year:
• John Anderson. The former Town Administrator received a guilty verdict after his Aug. 19 trial in Derry District Court. Anderson, 51, was accused of exposing himself to a DirecTV door-to-door salesman July 11, 2013. He was placed on administrative leave by the Town Council the next day, with Assistant Town Administrator Larry Budreau appointed as Acting Town Administrator. Anderson and the town severed their relationship when his contract was up in October. Judge Lucinda Sadler announced her decision Aug. 21. Anderson received a stay of his sentence after his attorney James Rosenberg told the court he plans to appeal the verdict.
• Search for a town administrator. The Derry Town Council chose to conduct its own search for an Administrator, reasoning that it would save money and that they knew the unique needs of Derry. A first search netted two finalists who were interviewed by staff and townspeople June 19. The Council cast its net further after neither of the two candidates were deemed the right fit for Derry. In September they produced three more finalists. Galen Stearns of Windham, who was the town administrator for Antrim, received the nod and began work in November.
• Griffin Morse, Pinkerton Academy. The semi-private high school conducted its own search for a chief executive officer after longtime Headmaster Mary Anderson retired this past June. Griffin Morse was the trustees’ final choice and began work in July. Morse, a native of the New Hampshire Seacoast, speaks several languages and started and ran a high-tech firm. His most recent position was running a Study Abroad program from Spain.
• Pinkerton 200th. The high school celebrated its 200th anniversary in style with special promotions in every department, a new time capsule buried, a song commissioned and composed by a University of New Hampshire professor of music, a new line of merchandise and apparel, and a gala at the end of September encompassing a musical performance, a catered meal and several class reunions, formal and informal.
• Rockingham Road sewer/water. The town completed its expansion of town sewer and water services to a portion of Rockingham Road/Route 28 south. The move was intended to attract business and industry, thus expanding the town’s tax base. While the extension was successfully completed by its November deadline, property owners on the road objected to a Planning Board initiative to change the stretch to a General Commercial IV district and restrict new automotive businesses and new private homes. The Planning Board did not adopt the ordinance but agreed to give the area, and expanding the tax base, further study.
• Land Use Change Tax (LUCT). The Town Council explored returning all or part of the Land Use Change Tax to taxpayers to lower their property tax rate. The LUCT is charged when a parcel is taken out of “current use” status and released for development. Derry’s funds were all going to the Conservation Commission. Two public hearings brought out environmental advocates who pressed for keeping the allocation of the LUCT as is and on Sept. 16, the Council, in a split vote, agreed to keep all the money going to Conservation.
Budgets and taxes. The Derry Town Council kept its promise to lower taxes, and the second tax bill for 2014 saw a $2 per $1,000 drop. The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration set the tax rate at $29.42 per $1,000, a drop of $2.07 from 2013’s rate of $31.49. The breakdown is: Town, $9.72; Local School, $16.11; State Education, $2.44; and County, $1.15.
• The primary: The Foley flap. Longtime Derry Republican Chairman James Foley was a favored candidate for the Dist. 19 State Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry. Foley suspended his campaign the weekend before the election due to allegations of past misconduct. But his name remained on the ballot and several of his signs stayed up. Two sign-holders, Bob Layton and Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, charged a free-speech violation when their “Foley Dropped Out” signs were removed by election officials.
• The General Election: Ruth Provencal. The Derry ballot clerk was dismissed just before the general election on charges of “electioneering.” While Provencal maintains that she said “God Bless You” to voters after they came out of the voting booth, Renee Routhier, head of the Supervisors of the Checklist, has said that Provencal attempted to influence voters in other ways and had been warned.
• Exit 4-A. After research and many meetings, the Derry Town Council formalized its relationship with the proposed Exit 4-A off Interstate 93. While a diligent search of archives produced no official contract, Council Chair Mark Osborne said his research showed that the town had given tacit consent to participating in the project. Osborne said while Derry never signed a contract, its other actions resulted in a “moral obligation” to honor the commitment.
• School space issues: Next and report. A decision by the Derry School Board to move the Next Charter School to West Running Brook Middle School, in order to create space at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School for the DEEP (Derry Early Education Program), came under fire from several parents concerned about the displacing of West Running Brook eighth-graders from their “pod” and the proximity of middle-schoolers to the high school students in Next. Community members pressed the board for the results of a Facilities Study that was commissioned this past spring, and the board received the study at the end of October and held a public forum Nov. 24, with Mark Joyce and Richard Ayers of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association. A committee and two subcommittees have been formed to look at what’s next.
Derry in 2014 also saw the retirement of longtime Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs; a $50 increase in the Veterans’ Tax Credit, with more expected to be phased in; Republicans take the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Hampstead Republican Regina Birdsell take Rausch’s District 19 seat over Windham Democrat Kristi St. Laurent; and the Farmers Market take on new summer digs in the pocket park in front of Derry Feed and Supply. Joshua Bourdon and David Fischer were elected to the Town Council in March, and a new charter school, the Granite State Arts Academy, opened in September on Route 111.