DERRY — Before heading into the courtroom, an agreement was reached over a lawsuit brought by two town councilors alleging a closed meeting was held in violation of state law.

The case brought by Councilors Kevin Coyle and Janet Fairbanks against the rest of the Town Council was settled, with a $150 filing fee paid and the Town Council agreeing to seek legal advice if it finds itself in a similar situation again.

"They admitted they called the meeting under the wrong section (of the town's RSA statutes)," Coyle said.

Coyle and Fairbanks filed the lawsuit in Rockingham Superior Court in May, claiming the Town Council held an illegal closed-door meeting March 30 to discuss hiring a search firm to find a replacement for retiring Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse.

A hearing was scheduled last month in Superior Court, but a settlement came before the case was heard.

"I feel the settlement was in the best interest of the taxpayers, as we did not want to incur further legal costs debating technicalities in court," Councilor Neil Wetherbee said in an e-mail.

Coyle said the meeting should have been public since it did not involve hiring a specific person for the administrator's job.

"I hate to do this to the town, as it is a tremendous waste of precious resources," Coyle said last spring. "But I can't let the majority of the Town Council break the law because they want to do everything behind closed doors."

At the meeting in question, five of the seven councilors voted to enter nonpublic session, with Coyle and Fairbanks voting no. Ten minutes into the meeting, according to unofficial meeting minutes, both Coyle and Fairbanks walked out.

The minutes also stated that discussion included Stenhouse's performance and qualifications, as well as the performance of two predecessors; residency requirements for a new town administrator; current and future compensation; and recommendations for hiring a search firm to help find a replacement.

Coyle said the lawsuit could have been avoided if the remaining councilors had thought about what can and can't be done in nonpublic session.

"The sad part is this could have been avoided if they just admitted they made a mistake," he said. "You can't violate the law."

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