, Derry, New Hampshire

October 24, 2013

Public input sparse at union hearing event

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — The public had a chance last week to weigh in on how the town does its collective bargaining work with employee unions.

But only one resident spoke up.

A public hearing to give people a chance to come before Town Council and give input brought out a handful of audience members with only one resident, Kelly Martin, choosing to speak at the microphone.

The open forum was a way for people to speak their minds about the town’s union contracts prior to the start of official negotiations.

“This was based on a public request to give input,” Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks said.

In Martin’s case, she asked councilors to take care when going over contract details.

“It seems we don’t always compare them to the private sector,” she said.

The public has given comments on town union deals before.

In June, a new three-year contract with the Teamsters Local 633, which covers public works employees, was approved.

The public was invited to give comment that night, right before the final Town Council vote.

That, according to acting Town Administrator and Human Resources Director Larry Budreau, was too close for comfort.

“Goals had already been set, the union had ratified the proposed contract and now, at the final moments of a process that may have lasted months or years, the public expressed its views,” Budreau said in June. “It’s not fair to the public, the town negotiators or the unions. It makes more sense to involve the public in the front end of the goal-setting process.”

This procedure sets the stage at the right time in the process.

“The process begins long before the parties come to the bargaining table,” he said.

Having any public input at this point also helps councilors when it comes to achieving their goals for future contract work.

“They will consider public input when determining future goals for bargaining,” Budreau said.

Right now, there are seven contracts posted on the town’s website. Of that total, only two are current. All others expired within the past several years.

In the past, town councilors have scheduled public hearings on collective bargaining agreements when they were at the final approval stage, Budreau said.

Giving the public a chance to be involved at this point was better, he said.

Some councilors wondered why more people didn’t come out to the meeting last week.

“The apathy in this town at times is disgusting,” Councilor Mark Osborne said. “With the emails and calls I get (about votes on the contracts), this would have been the time.”

Councilor Al Dimmock was also disappointed.

“I wish there had been more people to give input,” he said. “I hope people who are complaining behind the scenes will come discuss it with us.”

Others said not all input is done in public. Many councilors get regular calls and emails from constituents and that information will be used in the future.

“A lot of people just don’t come out to meetings,” Fairbanks said.

Councilor Brad Benson said not having a huge turnout could be a good thing.

“I don’t think that’s a negative,” he said. “No one here means we are doing fine, being fiscally prudent. People are happy with us. I look at this differently.”

Union contracts are posted on the human resources page of the town’s website,