Though the Town Council held a relatively short and uneventful meeting, the issue that has divided Derry residents for months flared up again during the Tuesday, Oct. 6 session.
This time it wasn’t over the budget cuts made by the Council that spurred eight petitions to reinstate the funds, but the way each side is getting their message out.
The court-ordered election on the eight petitions took place Tuesday, Oct. 13, with results not available until after the Nutfield News went to press.
Residents who have been building a grassroots style effort at overturning the cuts, those who recently won a court battle to force a special election to consider them, argued that it was dirty pool for the other side to get an out-of-state conservative political advocacy group to take part in the mix.
Resident Jenna Paradise initially raised the issue Tuesday night, stating that bringing in the national political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity to make cold calls from out of state was wrong. The Town budget is a small town issue, Paradise said. She argued that residents should come out to vote however they think and feel, but they should get all the information first, and the calls from the national group were misleading.
“You can’t outsource this,” said Paradise. “This has nothing to do with anyone outside this state or this town.”
Paradise charged the group with calling from Florida.
Americans for Prosperity is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)4 advocacy organization. This kind of non-profit group, as defined by the IRS, would include, “Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” Groups so defined do not have to make public the names of their donors. The umbrella group was founded by billionaire busi nessman and political activist David Koch, but it has state chapters, including one in New Hampshire.
State Representative John O’Connor, R-Derry echoed Paradise’s concerns over mobile calls from out of town weighing in on Derry’s affairs. O’Connor said he engaged the woman who called from Americans for Prosperity, and although she stated she was from Manchester, O’Connor said that when the number was called back, it went to a man, unconnected to the outreach, who was irate that he was receiving so many calls from Derry residents.
“Americans For Prosperity is a scam,” said O’Connor. “I think it’s dirty pool to do this here.”
But resident Marc Flattes didn’t see it that way. He thanked those who brought Americans for Prosperity into the mix, stating that it was akin to utilizing social media to get a message out. “I’m sorry but fair’s fair,” said Flattes. “Somebody uses Facebook, somebody else uses phone lines. That’s all there is to it.”
Councilor Mark Osborne, who voted in favor of the budget cuts, defended Americans for Prosperity and his role in bringing them into the fight. Osborne said he and others in town reached out to anti-tax groups, in part because the courts ordered the town to hold an election in a very short period of time and it was a method to spread the word about those elections.
“Those people who don’t live on ‘Derry Residents United,’ those people who don’t live on ‘Bring Derry Together’ or ‘Tearing Derry Apart’ or whatever it is that you call yourselves, they don’t live, eat, breathe, social media, OK? And so there’s a lot of people out there, it’s my understanding, who still don’t know that there is an election,” said Osborne.
The councilor went further to state that some residents were being hypocritical with their critique of the group. Osborne said out-of-state fire and public union folks came into Derry to give their support to petitioners, and he didn’t hear any complaints then.
“People wanted an election, you got one, and you don’t own the right to campaign,” said Osborne.
Osborne expounded for a time on the issue, and stated that the calling tactic was more upstanding than those who told residents that the sky was going to fall with the tax cuts, or who attacked the councilors personally, spreading information about their personal lives.
“Day after day, hour after hour, with nothing but character assassination on social media. You’re probably not going to see those groups (Americans for Prosperity) doing it. You won’t see those groups attacking people’s relatives, you’re not going to see those groups pamphleting downtown with people’s backgrounds and past mistakes in life; you won’t see those people here, shouting and screaming and being disorderly and disrupting meetings,” said Osborne, who then charged volunteers with not registering as a non-profit with the state after seeking donations.
“You wanted an election. That’s what happens. So stop whining,” said Osborne.
Though some residents wanted to rebut Osborne’s claims, chair Thomas Cardon shut them down, as the public forum part of the meeting was closed. There was some arguing back and forth and residents calling for Osborne to tell the truth.
Councilor Joshua Bourdon, who voted against the budget cuts, then stated that while he wasn’t going to attack any group, he was proud of some of the things he’d seen from residents.
“It’s not all how you (Osborne) just made it seem to be. There’s a group of people who care about their town. They do many different things, talk about many different causes, and to wrap them up in one big box is a lack of understanding. It’s unfortunate you choose to see the world through that lens and it’s unfortunate you choose to state your opinion in public,” said Bourdon, before a back and forth over personal attacks between him and Osborne.
“The difference here between what’s going on is that we have a local grassroots effort of people who care, and the reason we’re never going to see those people you mentioned is because they don’t even know where the town hall is,” concluded Bourdon.
In other Council news last week:
• Bourdon suggested utilizing TIF (Tax Increment Finance district) funds for the expansion of the Derry Rail Trail. He spoke about the benefits to the public and businesses that the trail can bring, and how it would benefit the town to cooperate with next door Londonderry as that town works to expand its own portion of the former railroad bed.
Bourdon said an initial investment of $240,000 in the existing section paid back huge dividends in regard to health, property values and the downtown economy and noted it would take another $150,000 to complete.
“I sternly urge the Council to take up this matter,” said Bourdon.