DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

November 8, 2012

Town boards need more members

Volunteers needed

By James Niedzinski jniedzinski@derrynews.com
Derry News

---- — LONDONDERRY — Some may skip class or use an unwarranted sick day, but when a town official does it, it can affect how well local government functions.

During a recent Master Plan Steering Committee meeting, chairman Leitha Reilly commented on the attendance of some committee members.

“I can think of one or two people that haven’t shown up in a while,” she said.

She later clarified she was only referring to the 12 regular members of the committee, who represent different boards within Londonderry.

Any appointed member of a board or commission who misses three consecutive meetings should resign and be replaced, according to the Londonderry Municipal Code.

Elected officials should step down after missing four consecutive meetings, the code says.

Steering Committee member Jason Allen has missed four consecutive meetings, but he doesn’t intend to resign.

He recently started a new job and time has been tight, he said.

“I still feel I am an active member of the Steering Committee,” he said.

For many, the reasons for missing meetings matter. But there should be a discussion.

“If you know somebody’s situation, you can work with them,” Planning Board chairman Arthur Rugg said.

Rugg said there have been some members on the Planning Board with prolonged absences, but nothing has brought a meeting to a halt.

“What you don’t want to do is discourage people from getting involved,” he said. “You want to be fair.”

The Planning Board is not the only town body with members missing.

Deb Lievens, chairman of the Conservation Commission, said one person resigned due to scheduling conflicts.

“Meetings have been affected by members not showing up in the past,” she said.

Lievens said she keeps a good record of what’s on the agenda for every meeting and is sure to notify commission members if there is anything of grave importance coming up.

“I’ve got a solid group of people,” she said. “You can tell when somebody is committed or not.”

There has to be a balance, Rugg and Lievens agree.

“It’s a tough situation,” Rugg said. “You don’t want to scare people away, but we do want active members.”

Alternate members help, Zoning Board Chairman Matt Neuman said.

If regular members miss a meeting or two, alternates step in and the work continues.

But, the Zoning Board and the Conservation Commission have been struggling to fill alternate seats. Both boards have slots for three alternates, but two of them are vacant.

Neuman said it is difficult to tell if the five-member Zoning Board is affected by absenteeism.

“Two or three meetings ago, we only had three members show up,” he said. “The voting may have gone a different way.”

He agrees too much enforcement of attendance could drive volunteers away.

Neuman, Rugg, Reilly and Lievens acknowledged people have personal and professional lives, and that can interfere with municipal service.

“You couldn’t exactly bring a 4-year-old to a Zoning Board meeting,” Neuman said.

There are also two alternate position open on the five member Solid Waste and Environment Committee and one alternate position on the Heritage and Historic District Commission, which has seven regular members.

Reilly said she has never pressed anyone to resign due to absenteeism and is pleased with the attending members.

“Their input has been fantastic,” she said.