The Derry Town Council hasn’t exactly started off the new year with a bang. Unfortunately, it appears 2014 is, thus far, a continuation of an unpleasant and unproductive 2013.
It’s tough to find a town of comparable population, tax rate and budget that’s as dysfunctional as Derry has become.
The Town Council, for all its hopes and dreams of a rosier future, continues to be an embarrassment and a largely ineffective leadership group.
The morass in which town leaders appear to be wallowing only grows deeper.
Without an active town administrator since July, residents might hope a new leader would be the council’s top priority. That doesn’t appear to be the case.
It seems the councilors first need to set goals and make peace before they are prepared to decide how to conduct a search for John Anderson’s replacement.
To that end, they met in late November and came up with a short list of three main objectives, each with two or three goals. The list ranges from scheduled more downtown meetings to review town services and prior reports. The councilors also want to hold regular meetings with the School Board.
The last goal is admirable, if unrealistic. Budget discussions every year are reduced to councilors correctly blaming the School Board for Derry’s ever-escalating tax rate. Perhaps the Town Council ought to figure out how to function as a working board before it establishes a meeting schedule with another board with which it has an unpleasant history.
There’s little this council can point to with pride since the makeup of the board changed significantly in March 2013. The former majority soon became the unhappy and not-so-silent minority.
Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks sits in the middle of the mess. Sadly, he has not risen to the occasion himself, and appears uncomfortable and inadequate in his role.
Two councilors — Brad Benson and Neil Wetherbee — long enjoyed a comfortable majority on the council. That all changed last March and now the two often appear disgusted and disgruntled. Both are up for re-election in March, should they choose to remain on the council. Neither man returned phones calls this week to see whether they will seek re-election.
A vote last week was emblematic of just how troubled this council is. On Dec. 17, the council rejected, in a tie vote, the acceptance of a Homeland Security grant for four portable ventilators.
Wetherbee was absent from that meeting and had asked the rest of the council to delay the vote until he could participate. That motion failed and the grant was rejected.
But on Jan. 7, with the full council present, the issue came up again. A motion to reconsider passed and, with Wetherbee supporting acceptance, the grant was approved.
It’s sad that the acceptance of a grant to supply the fire department with life-saving equipment gets bogged down in political infighting.
This council simply isn’t working — for the town, the individual members, for anyone.
It’s tough to suggest good-intentioned citizens might want to join such a group, but the town needs a new direction and new leadership. Under this council, it’s unlikely a new town administrator will be in place until this summer at the earliest.
The town deserves better.
While we applaud the council’s efforts to set goals and define priorities, there has been little success.
Obviously, the number one priority must be to hire a new administrator. No offense to acting administrator Larry Budreau, but it’s not a role he sought, nor one he wishes to retain.
How the town will manage to attract a professional and dedicated administrator is a question. It’s not a political atmosphere most would want to enter.
If Benson and Wetherbee choose to seek re-election, we will applaud their dedication. But they must do so in the spirit of working to improve town government, improve relationships with its citizens, and improve the demeanor and accomplishments of a council that has veered too far off course.
Any other resident who is unhappy with the town’s general lack of progress and its diminished spirit, should consider putting himself or herself out there as a candidate to make things better.