Town Council to Look at Tightening Ethics Standards

The Derry Town Council will look more closely at ethics, including conflict of interest and nepotism, in the near future.

At the Oct. 21 meeting, members discussed tightening up their rules and standards on ethical issues, in order to better serve the citizens of Derry.

Chairman Mark Osborne brought the issue up as an agenda item and said it should apply to both the Council and other boards and committees. “How do we want to go forward?” he asked. “We want the highest standards for our employees and ourselves, with no conflicts of interest.”

In particular, Osborne called for a formal definition of “conflict of interest.” “Councilor A might think one thing, Councilor B another,” he observed.

The Council rules provide some clarification, Osborne said, adding, “But we can do better.”

The rules state in Sec. 14, I, part “e,” “Not benefit personally from his or her Council activities, and disclose any personal, financial or other interest in matters affecting the town which come before them for action.” Part “f” continues, “Remove themselves from decision-making if they have a conflict of interest, or even the appearance of one.”

Councilor David Fischer said he’d asked for clarification after noticing that Londonderry has a nepotism ordinance. “I think it would be appropriate to reach out to the Londonderry Town Manager,” Fischer said. “We don’t need to take their policy carte blanche, but to discuss if this Council is interested in establishing a similar policy.” Fischer recommended the issue be a future agenda item.

Councilor Tom Cardon observed, “The word everybody seems to miss is ‘appearance.’ If it appears like a conflict, it is a conflict. I’ve seen this in the past, and we need to take a look at it.”

Councilor Michael Fairbanks recommended taking the “mini-training” offered by the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

Councilor Joshua Bourdon agreed that it was “worth looking into,” while Councilor Al Dimmock said, “I’ve been here watching what goes on. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with. Every Councilor should attend those seminars.” He noted that it was required of Zoning Board of Adjustment members that they attend at least two of the recent Law Lecture series.

“I don’t have a problem with us getting information,” Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said. But she added that Human Resources Director Larry Budreau hires people on their merit.

“A lot of great town employees happen to be relatives,” she said. “Should they be booted out?”

Osborne said his intent was to move forward and possibly establish a policy.

The current Council Rules address ethics in Sec. 14 and discuss relations with the community, the Town Administrator and fellow Councilors.

Londonderry adopted its nepotism policy Sept. 8 with a 3-0 vote. The amendment to the Municipal Code, called the Nepotism and Conflicts of Interest Ordinance, prohibits any town employee or official from hiring a family member. It also requires employees and officials to recuse themselves from decisions by which they would see direct or indirect financial profit. It does not forbid multiple family members from working for the town, but does not allow direct supervision or hiring by a family member.