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.
But time is up. The lack of respect displayed at recent meetings is an embarrassment. Some councilors pointed fingers at members of the public, accusing residents of false statements and attacks.
Fairbanks reviewed all comments from the public and found them to be “questions, opinions, suggestions and requests.” No foul there.
The same can’t be said for some members of the council. It would be fueling a fire that needs damping to call out individuals here.
Every councilor is there to look out for the residents of the town, regardless of his or her district. Residents have a right to question, suggest, offer opinions as to what path the council might take.
Councilors themselves have different perspectives, experience, goals. They are who the voters chose to represent them.
A council that shares perspectives and opinions often is less effective than one more evenly divided. One doesn’t have to look far back in Derry history to see what happens when a lopsided board rules.
This new makeup is likely good for the town’s longterm health. But the manner in which some councilors are operating isn’t good for anyone’s health, even their own.
It’s unfortunate Fairbanks needs to speak publicly about the lack of respect shown in recent weeks, but he does and correctly did.
Councilors have interrupted, accused, scoffed and more. It’s time to stop.
If any member finds this criticism off base, they would be well served to review tapes of recent meetings. It’s a mirror image that should make them uncomfortable.
It’s way past time to listen, keep open minds and afford fellow councilors some basic R-E-S-P-E-C-T