February 2, 2011

Council begins task of cleaning up charter mess

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Without a judge-ordered reconstitution of the town’s disbanded charter commission, the Derry Town Council was faced Tuesday night with three options for moving forward.
In the end, councilors decided to explore putting individual charter amendments directly on the ballot in March 2012.
Councilor Kevin Coyle also suggested two alternatives: put
 a new charter commission before voters next March or ignore the state attorney general’s objections and put the original charter proposal on the ballot.
After mistakes at the state level, the attorney general’s objections to some charter changes came just a week before they were set to go before voters last September. Last month, attorneys from the town and the
 state failed to convince a superior court judge to reconstitute the commission in time to make the required changes.
“Frankly, (the state) should’ve made the objections when they were supposed to and they didn’t, so it’s deemed approved,” Coyle said. “... I don’t think the attorney general would challenge us and if they did, they will have egg on
 their face for their actions.”
“I think they already do,” responded council Chairman Brad Benson. “I think it’s understood that it was a terrible situation, and it’s embarrassing for a lot of people. I think to play Russian roulette with the AG’s Office is not the most prudent thing to do.”
Ultimately Coyle’s motion to put the charter commission’s
 original report on the ballot failed without a second.
A second motion by Coyle to ask voters whether they would support a new charter commission also failed with a vote of 2-4, with Coyle and Brian Chirichiello supporting the measure.
“I don’t think the town
 should be the authoritarian figure that would look at all those questions and work on that,” Chirichiello said. “I think it would be wise to elect new commissions, even though it may be nine new people, it’s another set of eyes.”

But others said they didn’t want a new commission that could make changes to the prior group’s proposal, which cost the town $25,000 for a special election and legal fees.
“I think that the last charter commission was one of the best charter commissions since I’ve been in this town,” said Councilor David Milz. “... I think if we just put together a new one, it could undo all this good work they’ve
Instead, the council reached a consensus that the board would move each of the proposed charter changes as separate questions to the ballot.
Coyle asked if the council would commit to putting every proposed change on the ballot, including the more controversial ones like the creation of an ethics committee and a mandate to report political campaign contributions of more than $1,000.
After a discussion, the council’s consensus was that members would look at each proposed change and if there ended up being some that members didn’t want to put forward, then the council would propose
 a new charter commission for the following year. Council Vice Chairman Neil Wetherbee and
 Milz said they might propose additional changes to the charter, after discussions.

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