Residents File Superior Court Lawsuit on Budget

A group of residents who are asking the Town Council to overturn eight budget decisions have engaged a lawyer and filed with Superior Court.

Former Town Councilors Brian Chirichiello and Neil Wetherbee, and Michael Gendron and a loose coalition of citizens, Derry Residents United, have engaged attorney Jon Meyer of Manchester to file a suit with Rockingham Superior Court to get the Council to vote to overturn the eight budget decisions or to allow a special meeting for townspeople to vote on the issue.

Chirichiello said while the financial footing is not “completely off the ground,” the group has received a number of pledges of money for attorney’s fees after putting out a Facebook feeler. They have appointed a treasurer, and will keep track of donations. “We intend to ask the court to be reimbursed for our legal costs,” Chirichiello said.

The group decided to try raising money after learning that an attorney to fight for the petitions could cost up to $10,000.
Meyer filed the appeal Thursday, Aug. 13, Chirichiello said.

“We will ask the court to mandate a special election according to the charter,” Chirichiello said.

The group originally presented the eight petitions as “referendum petitions,” a mechanism allowed by charter that requires the Council to either reverse its vote or hold the special election. The Council retained its own attorney, Devine, Millimet of Manchester, and in a July 28 special meeting Chairman Tom Cardon announced that the Council would not be considering the petitions because the interpretation was that referendum petitions do not apply to budget votes.

Chirichiello disagreed, saying, “They do not have the right to ignore the petitions. The Charter says they can vote to repeal their original votes, or that it ‘shall go to a special election.’” In his days on the Planning Board, Chirichiello said, “I learned the power of the word ‘shall.’ There is no gray area.”

They are working against time, Chirichiello noted, because the election must take place by Sept. 30.

Chirichiello is willing to have the vote not go his way. “No matter what side you’re on, it’s more of the fact that we need the people to make this decision. It could go either way,” he said.

“It’s more about following the charter,” Chirichiello added.

The Council voted 4-3 on May 19 to make cuts to police overtime, police personnel, fire overtime, fire personnel, public works overtime, public works personnel, and to close a fire station and eliminate the Human Resources Director position. In a petition drive June 8 and 12, community members collected signatures for eight petitions, asking the Council to overturn the votes on each issue.

Councilors Joshua Bourdon, Phyllis Katsakiores and Richard Tripp voted against the cuts, with Mark Osborne, Al Dimmock, David Fischer and Chairman Tom Cardon voting in favor of them.