January 24, 2011

Judge rejects AG's request to revive Derry Charter Commission

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- The town has abandoned hopes of putting the charter question back before voters in March, after failing to persuade a superior court judge to reconstitute the charter commission.
“We put forth all of our best arguments, but by the end of
 the hearing it became apparent that the judge was unconvinced,” said town attorney Brenda Keith on Friday. “He indicated to us that he just simply did not think we had made out sufficient arguments for irreparable harm.”
Keith and representatives of the state Attorney General’s Office went before Judge Richard McNamara of the Merrimack
 County Superior Court on Wednesday, asking for a mandatory injunction to allow the commission to begin meeting again.
The Derry Charter Commission was disbanded last year, after completing a review of town’s charter and proposing more than 20 amendments to be voted on during the September primary election.
But after a mixup at the state level, objections to some of the amendment language did not reach the town until one week before the primary and after the charter commission had been disbanded. The Town Council voted to pull the charter question from the September ballot.
“This was an unfortunate mistake, so all parties concerned
 wanted to try to have the judge put the charter commission back in that place and time,” Keith said. “Timing was extremely critical this past week because (Friday) was the last day the charter commission could file a final report with the Town Council to be put on the ballot.” Keith said state attorneys withdrew the petition Friday.

After the town spent roughly $25,000 to cover special election costs and attorney fees associated with the charter commission process, Town Administrator John Anderson said he was hoping for a different outcome. 
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t have the charter commission’s work ready to be voted on by the public,” he said Friday. “But I think the council will now look at that work and see what they can do. We will definitely move ahead.”
Anderson said the council could propose specific charter amendments to be voted on individually, rather than as a single charter question for the March 2012 election.
“It’s really unfortunate with all the time and effort that went into the charter changes,” said council Vice Chairman Neil Wetherbee. “I know they spent a lot of time on this,
 and it’s really too bad we can’t just move that work forward.” 
Wetherbee said he would expect the council to consider putting forward some of the commission’s proposals to voters next year, though he said the urgency of the issue has now passed with the deadline for the March ballot.
Councilor Kevin Coyle, who served on the charter commission, said he was not in favor of pulling the charter question from the September ballot. He said he would still support putting the charter changes before the voters as they are, without making the state’s alterations.
“In my opinion, we should have voted on it in September and ignored what the AG told us. My opinion is that we should still ignore what they told us,” Coyle said. “I’m very upset that the AG’s office didn’t do their job and that they haven’t taken responsibility for this screw-up.”
And rather than have the
 council propose specific charter amendments, Coyle said he would like to see a new commission take up the task.
“We fixed things that had been plaguing the town for years, and we fixed everything,”
 he said. “The council can’t step in the charter commission’s place. I think the best thing would be to have another charter commission, as much as it pains me to say that.” 

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