September 22, 2010

Town wants probe into charter snafu

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – In response to the pre-election fumbling of the town's proposed charter changes by the state attorney general's office, the town has formally requested that Gov. Lynch investigate the handling of the process.
Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse reported to the Council last night that town attorney Brenda Keith was working with State Deputy Attorney General Bud Fitch to map out a legal strategy that might allow the town to move forward with the process, getting a final charter before the voters for approval by March.
It is a process that should have been smooth – and completed within 30 days of the January 21 submission by the elected Charter Commission to the AG's office. However, that process stalled out six days before the election, when it was discovered that the charter submission was never reviewed by the attorney general's office.
On September 2, the town was notified by the AG's office that it should remove the charter question from the ballot due to some changes that don't align with state law. After calling two emergency meetings, the council finally voted 6 to 1 to comply, but not before Councilor Kevin Coyle chided his fellow councilors for caving in to the state's request.
Coyle maintains that legally the town had every right to move forward with the charter, based on the specifics of the statute that defines the process for submission and acceptance of a charter revision.
Fitch attended the second emergency meeting and told the council that his office would help shepherd the process, and he would call on the Superior Court to “turn back the clock” and allow the town's Charter Commission, which was officially dissolved, to reconvene and finish the work that it had started.
Last night Coyle again reiterated that he believes Fitch's proposal is illegal.
The Charter Commission is a statutory animal, and it doesn't exist anymore. Any judge will say that it doesn't exist. I believe we're throwing good money after bad,” by asking the court to reconvene the commission, Coyle said.
Although Fitch accepted blame on behalf of his office for ultimately mishandling the process, last night former Charter Commissioner Doug Newell stepped up during public comment to vent his anger – aimed directly at the Council – over the matter.
“I promised myself I'd be civil, but I'm angry enough to break my own promise,” said Newell.
Newell accused the Council of destroying the ballots pertaining to the charter changes “in order to make the AG's office look good,” said Newell.
“Derry spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on this process, we sent it to Concord for approval and because the AG's office is clearly incompetent, they screwed up; their time period to comment on it passed. Then you folks took it upon yourselves to take it off the ballot,” Newell said.
Newell, who was in favor of revising the town's charter, spearheaded the petition drive that resulted in a vote to form a Charter Commission. He reminded the Council that the commission – of which Coyle was also a member – met 15 times to comb through the existing town charter. IN the end, Newell was critical of the outcome; he was in favor of changing the town's form of government to a city charter.
“We wasted enormous amounts of time reading not the liveliest of documents, word for word,” said Newell. “This annoys me greatly, and in future years I hope to see a whole different set of faces here.”
In other post-election fallout, Katherine Prudhomme-O'Brien, who ran unsuccessfully for state represented, aired her frustrations to the Council.
She lost her bid for office by eight votes, and felt the truncated election process left many candidates squeezed out of the recount process by tight deadlines. She said she was tied up with family matters and did not find out the official vote count until just before the 5 p.m. recount deadline Wednesday.
I was disappointed that when votes were read at midnight here, there was no coverage of that on Derry's cable channel, and there should have been. Why wasn't it broadcast? Also, there was no posting of election results on the town's website. There's no excuse for that, either; it's abysmal,” Prudhomme-O'Brien said.
Town Clerk Denise Neale explained that the town is having some technical difficulties with its Internet provider.
It is a technical issue, not an oversight issue,” said Neale.

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