LONDONDERRY — A town councilor continues to speak out about freedom of speech and what should be allowed while sitting as an elected official.
But at a Council meeting Aug. 17, the town's attorney said Town Councilor Deb Paul, in her job leading a local newspaper, has had conflicts of interest and should recuse herself when specific issues arise.
Paul is the owner/publisher of The Londonderry Times, Nutfield News, and Tri-Town Times, and was elected to the Council back in March.
Since then, several instances of possible conflict of interest has been brought out at various meetings, where Paul has been told she may have had possible issues when speaking out, most recently involving the school district and Old Home Day.
The school district pays Paul's newspaper to place its legal notices. The Londonderry Times also ran advertisements for Old Home Day placed by local businesses that financially benefited the newspaper, town attorney Michael Ramsdell said at the recent meeting.
Ramsdell presented Paul with information about the legal obligations of being a town councilor, citing statues and rules, both municipal and state, that say elected officials should recuse themselves when issues come up on subjects where the official may have a conflict of interest or have any financial gains.
"Those who serve the people must be impartial," Ramsdell noted, when giving his presentation.
The attorney presented images of several of Paul's newspapers showing Old Home Day advertisements, and said when doing his research, "the financial connection became obvious."
"The conflicts of interest should be easily understood," Ramsdell said.
And Paul publishing a local newspaper is another conflict as per what governs journalism with Ramsdell giving many examples from publications saying journalists should not run for public or political office to avoid having conflicts of any kind.
Paul said she is "not a journalist" and should have the right to speak as a citizen at meetings.
She added she feels it's a constant barrage over the past several meetings where her work as a councilor is being questioned.
"What did I do wrong?" Paul asked, adding she is working hard to promote the town's happenings in her newspaper, but also feels she has a right as a citizen to speak freely. "And I'm really confused as to why this all has to happen at every single meeting. I try to work with people and I don't bother anybody on this board."
But Ramsdell warned her that she must keep away from any potential conflicts.
"I am trying to keep the town of Londonderry out of litigation," he said. "I'm not saying she can't serve, but there are issues she has to be aware of where she has a conflict of interest and can't participate in those issues."
Council Chairman John Farrell said he always available to help Paul as she learns more about being a councilor.
"And anything that might be perceived the wrong way, we all have to be smart and have to be careful," Farrell said.
In other Council discussion, officials decided to bring information on a possible community mask-wearing mandate to a meeting next month.
Farrell said a draft ordinance could be drawn up to be considered as part of a public hearing.
Town Manager Kevin Smith also reported that local postal service officials said the town of Londonderry should be in good shape during election season and are working to make sure mail-in ballots are delivered in a timely way.
Smith said postal officials reiterated they are "more than equipped" to handle what is expected to be a heavier than usual volume of ballots.