Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With a question appearing on Tuesday’s ballot asking residents to reconsider the way Londonderry is governed, a growing number of citizens are campaigning against Article 2, which would replace the traditional town meeting with a deliberative session.
Article 2, as it appears on the March 8 ballot, reads: “Shall the municipality approve the charter amendments summarized below?
“To adopt the official ballot budgetary town meeting, by amending various sections of the
charter. A deliberative session of the budgetary town meeting, to debate, discuss and amend budgetary articles, will take place between the first and second Saturdays following the last Monday in January. All articles, as amended, will then be placed on the official ballot for vote on the second Tuesday in March. Bond articles will require a three-fifths majority for passage.”
On Friday afternoon, School Board member Steve Young, who served on the charter commission, helped place a large sign near the town center, reading “No Lies, No Mischief, No on Article 2, No Fear.”
While the majority of the charter commission opted in favor of giving voters the option of doing away with town meeting for good, Young, who favors preserving the town’s current method of governing, said he found the process challenging.
“The minority was frustrated during the charter commission process. We felt shut out on a lot of items,” Young said last week, noting that the commission’s meeting procedures virtually eliminated the commission’s ability to address quorum concerns.
The nine-member commission was formed during the March 2010 town meeting to take a closer look at the town’s governing methods. Ultimately the commission voted, 6-3, in favor of placing Article 2 on this year’s ballot, with commissioners Young, Kathy Wagner and Marty Bove opposed.
During several of the commission’s meetings last summer, the topic of the school’s quorum arose, with Young noting that last year’s attempts to reduce the quorum size during school deliberative sessions ultimately failed, with the board opting against reducing the 500-person mandatory quorum to 350.
Though school officials continue awaiting word on the legality of the district’s quorum, last month’s deliberative session resulted in further scrutiny where the quorum is concerned.
During the Feb. 11 school deliberative session, 508 voters reportedly filled the room at one point, though when the time came to vote Friday evening, just 446 residents filled the seats at Londonderry High School, yet again falling short of the minimum attendance needed for residents to amend warrants.
In the charter commission’s minority report, required by state law, Young, Wagner and Bove cited various concerns over a potential change to SB2.
“The intent of the Charter Commission was to look at all options and possibilities as they related to ballot voting. What would be included in official ballot voting, and how it would be implemented? To disallow analysis, conversation review and possible consideration of quorum options artificially restricted the open environment intended for the best possible solutions,” one passage of the report read.
“The deliberative session, as defined by the charter commission, didn’t include a quorum, and we still don’t know what’s going on with the quorum on the school side,” Young noted. “Until then, it just seems foolish to continue down this road to a deliberative session.”
Town Councilor Tom Dolan concurred.
“Article 2 will further infect Londonderry with this perversion,” Dolan said. “This is a disease we can avoid. We must vote ‘NO’ and fix our town government correctly, for all, not just the few.”
Resident Reed Clark, who has long been outspoken on the town’s need for preserving its town meeting tradition, expressed fear that a town deliberative session might mean many residents could lose their voice, especially considering what happened at the recent school deliberative session.
“Beyond any question, I hate quorums. There will never be 500 people at our school deliberative session, ever,” Clark said. “Because we had 508 come to the last one, and they still didn’t get a chance to vote.”
“Let the public come out and give their opinions, whether there’s 500 people there, or 350,” he continued. “But why would you want to change something that has worked for nearly 300 years?”