, Derry, New Hampshire

April 4, 2013

Editorial: Town can’t afford parting gifts for officials

Derry News

---- — A dispute over the ownership of a former Derry town councilor’s iPad raises some troubling questions, not the least of which is this: Why is a community with the highest tax rate in the state using taxpayer funds to hand out expensive gifts to departing town officials?

Tradition, some might say. Well, tradition is a fine thing but times change and money is now tighter than it once might have been. It’s rather insulting to hard-pressed taxpayers to have their funds used so cavalierly.

Perhaps departing town councilors should be sent off with a grocery-store cake, a card and a hearty handshake. That is, after all, what most people who toil in the private sector receive these days as they head out the door.

The current dispute involves former councilor Brian Chirichiello, who stepped down this year after nine years on the Town Council.

The town has traditionally given a rocking chair valued at $356 as a good-bye gift to departing councilors. Chirichiello did not want the chair and asked Town Administrator John Anderson if he could keep his town-issued iPad instead. Chirichiello wrote the town a check for the difference in value between the iPad and the chair.

“Brian brought the ($51.99 difference) check in and we gave him the iPad,” Anderson told our reporter. “I don’t think I did anything wrong.”

Well, others did. The deal did not sit well with former councilor Janet Fairbanks. She called for Chirichiello to return the iPad, saying it’s town property and not something that should be awarded as a farewell gift.

Chirichiello thinks the exchange was fair.

“Just like every other councilor before me, all retired councilors received a gift of a rocking chair,” he said. “I have two at home so I thought I would ask that the money that would be used for my chair be used for the iPad.”

Chirichiello also notes that when Fairbanks and Kevin Coyle stepped down from the Town Council, they, too, were offered chairs. Fairbanks wanted to use her money for charity and Coyle asked that a bench be placed on the Derry bike trail in his honor for the entire town to use. Chirichiello said those gifts were equal in value to his.

The flap illustrates a number of concerns. The first is the whole matter of town issued iPads. The electronic tablets are personal by nature. People inevitably form attachments with them, using them for personal purposes and storing personal data on them. This is problematic when the devices are owned by the town.

Another problem is the idea that councilors are owed some kind of lovely parting gift when they leave. If they decline the proffered rocking chair, why do they feel they are entitled to something else in its place?

Two newly elected councilors, Tom Cardon and Mark Osborne, want to look at the idea of providing gifts when councilors step down. That’s a good idea.

Osborne said he didn’t think Anderson had the authority to give the iPad to Chirichiello without Town Council approval.

“I have no doubt the gift was done with good intentions,” Osborne said. “But why give the town administrator the power to give away town property without a vote? I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the town to ask that the iPad be returned immediately.”

At this point, it’s best to let the matter go. Chirichiello has paid the town the difference between the value of the iPad and the chair he would have received.

But the Town Council ought to take a vote declaring the end of the parting gift tradition.

A cake and a handshake — that’s a sufficient farewell for anyone.