, Derry, New Hampshire

October 24, 2013

Editorial: Official silence does not serve the public good

Derry News

---- — A person who does not have the courage to speak his or her mind has no business holding public office.

There’s a disturbing trend among elected officials to adopt self-imposed gag orders, refusing to discuss or speak to the general public on matters of concern to the community. Instead, they defer to a board chairman or paid administrator to speak for them. More often than not, those designated speakers have nothing to say as well.

These officials justify giving their constituents the silent treatment with the need for board unity or to guard against liability concerns. Nonsense. They are instead denying their constituents the full representation in local government that they were elected to provide.

There’s no better example of this than in Derry, where the Town Council will not discuss details of a decision to terminate the town administrator without cause.

If officials are unwilling to speak to those who elected them, voters should replace them with others who better understand the function of representative government.

In Derry, the behavior of the town administrator has been the talk of the town. John Anderson faces two misdemeanor charges over an incident at his home in which police say he exposed himself and masturbated in front of a satellite television salesman.

Anderson, 50, was initially placed on paid leave following the July 12 incident. After state police issued an arrest warrant, the council voted on Aug. 20 to place him on unpaid leave.

Last week, the Town Council voted not to renew Anderson’s contract and to pay him severance. They also returned him to paid leave until Oct. 25 — the day his three-year contract with the town ends.

The council had imposed a gag order on itself and will not reveal any details of the severance package or discuss their decision.

A former town councilor, Kevin Coyle, has filed a Right-to-Know Law request with the town to get details of the severance arrangement, which he estimates at $43,000. It turns out Anderson is being paid $45,000.

Not all of Derry’s councilors agree with the gag order. Councilor Mark Osborne said he voted against the agreement.

“We remain gagged, bound, choked, threatened, cajoled, coerced, neutered, and browbeaten,” Osborne wrote to reporter Julie Huss. “Thus, no comments from Derry’s elected officials will be forthcoming because six of Derry’s seven town councilors willingly approved of such conditions. Please note that I voted against this condition as well as the entire settlement agreement. I’m just prohibited by the agreement for saying why. Real nice.”

Derry Councilors Al Dimmock and Phyllis Katsakiores told reporter John Toole that it’s difficult for them as elected officials to remain mum on a significant local issue.

Katsakiores said some people have approached her in church to ask about the situation.

“It is really frustrating because I think people have a right to know,” she said. “I don’t like this being kept behind closed doors. It just really bothers me. The taxpayers have a right to know what’s going on.”

Then speak up.

Falling back on “gag orders” and “policy” is just another way for elected officials to dodge their responsibility to the people who elected them.

Those who will not stand up and defend the right of the public to know what’s going on in their government do not deserve the trust of the people — or their votes.