, Derry, New Hampshire

December 5, 2013

Derry councilors try to find common ground

Fractured group finds little common ground

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — Town councilors want to find common ground when it’s time to hire a new town administrator.

Some say it’s possible; others aren’t too sure.

The often divided seven-member group held a goals workshop last week to talk about priorities and what the focus should be for Derry’s next leader.

Former administrator John Anderson has a court date of Dec. 13 after being charged this summer with indecent exposure and lewdness. The town officially cut ties with Anderson in October and did not renew his contract.

No official search has started to find a replacement.

The workshop was planned to highlight town goals councilors may want to include in their search for a new administrator.

Facilitators were Carl Webber and Jen Claise of the New Hampshire Public Risk Management Exchange, Primex.

Primex has worked with Derry since the late 1970s, offering support with workers compensation, unemployment programs, and other municipal programs and support. The workshop support was covered under the regular contract.

Primex facilitated a similar goals workshop in 2009.

Some councilors want to work better together and put that at the top of the goals list.

“To be friends, no fighting, no name calling,” Town Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said.

Other ideas included better marketing strategies for the town, lowering taxes, and creating a better relationship between town and school district.

The group narrowly agreed on three issues: getting Derry’s town and school tax rate under control; economic development; and supporting the town’s business environment.

A few days after the workshop, Town Councilor Brad Benson said there was little discussion about the administrator search process.

“We did discuss goals, but did not discuss our vision of a new town administrator,” he said.

Town Councilor Tom Cardon said he thought Webber did a good job of keeping the group focused.

“We came up with up with three very important issues that will keep us busy for some time,” he said. “I like the timetable he put on us so that we would stay focused on those priorities.”

Benson said agreeing on anything was a good start. That could make the eventual administrator search easier.

Town Councilor Mark Osborne said any new administrator should keep Derry’s residents and their wallets in mind.

“A lot to this town is more than just Main Street,” he said.

Town Councilor Neil Wetherbee said the divide on the council remains.

“I’ve been baffled by the direction and/or lack thereof that council leadership has taken for months,” he said. “I have personally asked for some of what I feel are the more global issues to be placed on the agenda, but have thus far been disregarded.”

Attempts to reach Town Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks were unsuccessful.

Wetherbee said it was also suggested during the workshop that councilors review repair logs/records of various police vehicles to determine if each and every replacement is necessary.

“The majority of this council remains focused on what I feel are relatively minor issues,” he said. “I don’t think the council should be playing car mechanic.”

Wetherbee said the workshop did not accomplish what he had hoped.

“It more highlighted what we have failed to do as a council over the last nine months,” he said. “At the rate we’re moving, it will be months before we simply address the process to fill the vacant town administrator’s job, let alone consider candidates.”

Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau said he thought the workshop served its purpose. He said he is confident councilors can work together.

“And understanding the town’s priorities will help council determine important characteristics and skills required of the next town administrator,” he said.

Budreau said he anticipates Primex will provide a report in time for the council to discuss and review it at the council meeting Dec. 17.

Benson said he wants the group to remain on track.

“Hopefully, council leadership will continue to move the council forward on the agreed time frame to accomplish the stated objectives,” he said. “My concern is that leadership is so weak that we will get derailed.”

Wetherbee said it’s time to find a new administrator.

“There’s really no reason the process can’t or shouldn’t start ASAP,” he said. “We’ve been without an administrator since July and the council made its final decision on the issue almost two months ago. I’m not really sure what we’re waiting for.”