The Derry Town Council will meet Tuesday, July 28, altering its regular summer meeting schedule to discuss eight referendum petitions submitted by residents, after which, depending on the Council vote, the petitions may go to the full legislative body – the voters – for their vote.
A sometimes-rowdy Special Meeting was adjourned after less than a half hour Thursday, July 16 The meeting was called by Councilors Joshua Bourdon, Phyllis Katsakiores and Richard Tripp, who were the dissenting votes on the 2016 budget approved May 19.
Councilors Mark Osborne, Albert Dimmock and David Fischer and Chairman Tom Cardon declined to discuss the petitions at the special meeting, but agreed to set a date of July 28 to meet, after they talk with attorneys.
The budget approved by Cardon, Osborne, Dimmock and Fischer in May, and now in effect, included, among other cuts, the following:
Emergency management, cut to $6,000;
Tax Collector, cut to $6,250;
Fire, cut to $339,012;
Dispatch, cut to $38,000;
Police, cut to $365,781;
Highway, cut to $63,500;
Transfer Station, cut to $15,000;
Buildings and Grounds, cut to $6,500;
Recreation, cut to $2,500; and
Parks, cut to $5,000.
Public Works, two full-time positions for a projected savings of $192,000;.
Police, four full-time positions, saving $384,000; and
Fire, eight full-time positions, saving $768,849.
Human Resources. In addition to the personnel cuts, the Council majority voted to eliminate the position of Human Resources Director, saving $150,000.
• Closing a fire station. The Hampstead Road Fire Station saw its last day as a working fire station June 30. It will be used for training and storage.
A petition drive June 8 and 12 brought more than 1,000 signatures for the eight referendum petitions, which cover reversing the police personnel cuts, police overtime cuts, fire personnel cuts, fire overtime cuts, public works personnel cuts, public works overtime cuts, reinstating the Human Resources position and reopening the Fire Station.
As referendum petitions, the town charter requires that the Council vote again on the items on the petitions, and if the original vote is not overturned, that a special meeting be called and the electorate allowed to vote.
The Council hired an independent attorney, Devine, Millimet of Manchester, and voted to spend up to $10,000 for the legal services.
While the Devine, Millimet opinion has been received, Cardon, Dimmock, Fischer and Osborne have expressed a desire to review the legal opinion and the petitions, while Bourdon, Katsakiores and Tripp have asked for a more immediate resolution.
A 91-A Right-to-Know request by the Nutfield News earlier this month for release of the legal opinion was denied by both Cardon and Town Administrator Galen Stearns as covered by attorney-client privilege.
Vetting the petitions
Cardon noted that he had been informed of the special meeting by a note on his door. “I got no text message, no call,” he said, pointing to a lack of “common courtesy” on the part of the three dissenting Councilors.
The Nutfield News received notice of the meeting through the usual Town email.
Cardon said he had a meeting with the independent attorney the following week, and in his opinion, “This is too important a question not to have all the facts, all the information we need. It is uncharted territory.” If the budget vote were overturned and a new budget crafted, it could push the budget cycle up, from beginning in March to beginning in September, he said.
Katsakiores took exception, noting, “We hired an attorney for $10,000, and Devine, Millimet deemed the petitions sufficient. They gave us 30 days to act on it. Why are we spending more money to bring them back?”
“I have a lot of questions,” Cardon said.
Katsakiores countered, “You didn’t read their opinion?” and Cardon said he had read it.
Cardon said the Council had agreed to spend up to $10,000 on the attorney, and they hadn’t reached that figure.
For Katsakiores it boiled down to “two simple questions: we need to listen to what the lawyers said, and we need to set a date to talk about the petitions and for the election.”
Tripp said according to Section 7 of the Council rules, the agenda gives the order of things to be acted upon. “This agenda says, ‘Take action on the petitions.’ I don’t see any other agenda items.”
“We are taking action,” Cardon responded.
At a rumble of discontent from the audience, Cardon said, “We are not doing this, guys. There is no public input in this meeting.”
One man yelled, “First amendment!” Others called from the audience at several points in the discussion, and Cardon repeatedly asked for silence.
Tripp said the Council should take action on the eight referendum petitions. “They were deemed sufficient by the attorney,” he said, agreeing with Katsakiores.
But Fischer said he still had questions. “It’s important to follow up with the proper procedure,” Fischer said. “I raised a number of questions, and I want to ask them. It’s not avoidance – it’s developing my understanding.”
On July 14, the Town sent a notice out of a non-public meeting with legal counsel to take place July 22 at 6 p.m. No further details were released.
Bourdon asked Cardon if he would be willing to share his questions with the audience, and Cardon declined.
“We represent the people,” Bourdon said. “It makes sense to me that we could schedule the special election, if we’re meeting with the attorneys next week.”
For Bourdon it’s all about letting the people vote. “It’s very possible,” he said, “that in the election people will choose to leave the tax rate where it is. And I’ll admit I was wrong.”
When Cardon suggested, “How about July 28?” one woman from the audience shouted, “What year?”
Osborne reminded them, “In the last meeting, the Councilors up here said openly that they want to meet with an attorney.”
“Have any Councilors up here considered changing their decision?” Bourdon asked. “Is it up for debate?” If they are all standing firm it would be best to go ahead and schedule the special election, Bourdon said.
Bourdon originally suggested Sept. 12, but Town Clerk Denise Neale said she would be on vacation. He then made a motion to hold the special election Sept. 1, but it was defeated 4-3, with the vote the same as on the budget in May, with Bourdon, Katsakiores and Tripp in favor and Fischer, Osborne, Cardon and Dimmock opposed.
The Council approved the July 28 meeting, in the same split vote, and agreed to adjourn, again with a 4-3 vote.
Bourdon, Dimmock, Fischer, Katsakiores, Osborne and Tripp stayed after the adjournment to discuss the informally issues with constituents.