By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — Two town councilors are challenging last week’s vote on a collective bargaining agreement between the town and its management and technical staff.
Councilors Mark Osborne and Al Dimmock cried foul after last week’s Town Council approval of the Professional Administration and Technical Employees Union contract, saying the voting procedure did not follow the rules and the contract should not be signed.
Osborne, an attorney, said he would take legal action if the contract is enforced.
At a meeting Feb. 18, councilors approved the PATE contract by a vote of 3-2, with Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores abstaining.
Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau called the deal “a good contract for all parties” and said it was a tough negotiation process.
The contract had been before councilors at a previous meeting.
Budreau gave a more detailed presentation on the points of the contract last week. Osborne and Dimmock both wanted to delay a vote to allow councilors and the public to absorb the information. That motion failed.
Osborne called out a charter objection to the potential vote, but that attempt also failed, 3-2. Councilors Brad Benson, Neil Wetherbee and Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks then gave the OK to the contract. Osborne and Dimmock voted against approving the deal that had been in negotiations for three years. It would give general wage increases for the length of the contract.
Osborne’s challenge to the vote was due to language in the town charter that says the union contract could only be passed if a “majority vote” of those present was given.
He said there was no majority that night with only six councilors in attendance and one voting to abstain.
In an email to both Fairbanks and Budreau, Osborne said, “With only three councilors voting in favor of the contract, that is not a majority of those present, hence the measure fails.”
As a result, Osborne said, the town was scheduled to seek a legal opinion on what the charter language stated and how council votes are to be counted.
“I feel my reading of the charter is correct and if they receive a legal opinion, I will seek injunctive relief and file suit in Superior Court for a proper ruling,” Osborne said. “As such, the PATE contract would be deemed unenforceable and illegal.”
Union contract talks were not the only highly charged part of the council’s meeting last week. Councilors also sparred over the placement of the public forum portion on the meeting agenda.
Last week’s agenda had the forum near the end because there was a lot of business planned that night, according to Fairbanks.
The meeting ended at 10:15 p.m.,15 minutes past the designated end time for regular meetings. Councilors did not get to several agenda items, including more discussion on the town administrator search.
That didn’t sit well with some.
“We’ve been without a town administrator for months,” Wetherbee said. “We have an obligation to move this process forward. This is the CEO of our company. and all we do is delay, delay and delay.”