November 25, 2010

Quick work needed to get charter vote on Mach ballot

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Town officials say that getting Derry's charter question back to voters in March will take some quick action at both the town and state level.
After the charter question was unexpectedly pulled from the September ballot after last-minute objections from the state, Town Clerk Denise Neale said a new version must be finalized by Feb. 1 in order to make it onto the March ballot.
Changes proposed by the town's now-disbanded charter commission include the creation of an ethics committee and mandated reporting of political campaign contributions of more than $1,000.
A first version of the proposed changes was sent to the state Attorney General's Office for review in January, Neale said, to which the state responded to with a signed receipt days later.
By law, the state is to respond to charter requests within 30 days to highlight any issues with state law compliance. And after those 30 days came and went with no word from the state, Derry Town Administrator John Anderson said town moved forward to prepare a final report and ballot question.
But after former Derry Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse asked the state for clarification of some issues with the changes in July, the Attorney General's Office said they never received the document. Neale said she was asked to resend the report shortly thereafter.
Then just one week before the Sept. 14 election, the Attorney General's Office sent the town an outline of several pieces of the proposed charter that would violate state law, including amendments it said restricted the authority of the town administrator. The charter question was then pulled from the September ballot.
Over the past few weeks, Anderson said town staff have been working with the Attorney General's Office to to draft a request of the New Hampshire Supreme Court to allow Derry's charter commission to reconvene and take another look at the charter report. By law, a charter commission must be disbanded within 60 days after the final report is written, he said.
Anderson said that court filing has been prepared and is set to be filed this week or next.
If the court allows Derry's commission to reconvene, O'Connor said they will likely make quick work of ironing out the kinks in the final report to be sent back to the state.
Anderson said he is optimistic things will move more quickly as soon an updated final report is filed.
"We've certainly got their attention," Anderson said Wednesday. "There had been a comedy of errors, but we're not placing blame. Now it's just about how to move forward."
After Derry taxpayers fronted more than $22,000 to cover special election costs and attorney fees associated with the charter changes, O'Connor said he hopes the question will move forward.
"It would be an awful waste of taxpayer's money not to let them vote on what's to be presented to them," he said. "In this economic time, it's not something we can afford to do."
And state Rep. Phyllis Katsakiores, R-Derry, said she hopes legislation she is putting forth next year will prevent such confusion down the line.
Under her proposal, which will soon be filed, Katsakiores said the state would be required to send a formal letter of receipt to the chair of a municipal charter commission within 14 days of receiving proposed changes.

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