Derry Town Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks truly is the man in the middle.
He’s flanked on one side by councilors who are brand new to the board, elected in March. On the other side sit the three councilors who were elected previously.
He’s also in the middle of a bit of a mess.
Anyone who has been to a meeting this spring or watched from home knows the atmosphere often has been less than cordial. The councilors are divided as clearly as are their seats and Fairbanks is right smack at the center of that divide.
Many votes, especially those of fiscal import, would be 3-3 without Fairbanks. Sometimes he votes with Councilors Brad Benson, Neil Wetherbee and Phyllis Katsakiores, and sometimes he sides with the newcomers, Councilors Al Dimmock, Mark Osborne and Tom Cardon. There’s a reason boards have an odd number of members.
But beyond often casting the tie-breaking vote, Fairbanks also must maintain order and make sure Town Council rules are followed.
It’s a tough job and no one can fault him for the deer-in-the-headlights expression that has crossed his face in the early days of his tenure as chairman. Now, Fairbanks says, it’s time to crack down and insist councilors treat one another with respect. He’s right. He might also include Town Administrator John Anderson on that list.
There’s no question the majority of voters wanted to see a change on the Town Council; that’s why Osborne, Cardon and Dimmock were elected. The election results were, no doubt, tough for some members to swallow.
That’s understandable. So, too, is the transition that results from an election that brings significant change. A new board has to find its way, its members must get accustomed to one another, its chairman sort out procedure and protocol.