LONDONDERRY — A new town councilor got in hot water with her fellow councilors for potentially speaking in public about privileged union negotiation information.
Debra Paul, elected in March and also publisher of three area newspapers,, got into a verbal shouting match with fellow councilor Jim Butler after Butler said Paul made public comments at a recent Budget Committee meeting dealing with private/privileged union information.
At a meeting June 1, Town Councilor Tom Dolan spoke about a Budget Committee meeting last month where Paul publicly spoke out, saying she was speaking as a resident and not a town councilor, about possible information about union negotiation information that is to be kept under privileged/private circumstances among councilors, negotiators and town legal counsel.
At that budget meeting, Paul spoke out saying "I'm speaking not as a councilor, but as a resident," saying she hoped the town could find ways to support taxpayers and save money, including "speaking to the unions" and holding off raises for a year to make it "a little easier for the taxpayers."
But councilors warned Paul that as speaking in public, she is always a councilor first and foremost.
"We have a strategy in nonpublic with our attorney, we develop a strategy with upcoming union contracts," Councilor Tom Dolan said. "It's important we are all on the same page. And now that you (Paul) are elected, you are always speaking as a town councilor. Words of the wise, we have to be very careful along these lines."
Council Chairman John Farrell agreed, telling Paul she is a town councilor "24/7."
"And you can't be the publisher of the newspaper and a town councilor at the same time," he said. "You can't be one or the other. You are an elected official. You are a town councilor."
Paul's comments in front of the Budget Committee could have violated some of that nonpublic strategy, some councilors said.
But Paul defended her public comments, saying she just wanted to gauge the budget group's temperament when it came to certain issues.
"And now you are telling me I can't do that? I can't speak out at a meeting as a resident," Paul said. "I guess I don't understand. I thought that's what our job was, to do our best for the citizens of the town."
The exchange got a bit heated between Paul and fellow Town Councilor Jim Butler, after Butler said Paul's comments may have made public note of privileged information.
"So to go to a meeting as a councilor and a private citizen and take that information and bring it forward," Butler said, "It doesn't work that way, and you've broken my trust with you. You can't have your cake and eat it too, and I see it as a direct conflict of interest."
"You never had any trust with me Jim," Paul responded, adding she is just learning the job and told Butler, "you are not going to bully me."
Farrell then calmed the fire and added "We function as a Council, we function as one body. You are not expected to know everything. But you have to be careful what you do with information until it's used at the appropriate time."
At the same meeting, councilors approved a resolution recommending "in the strongest manner possible" that Londonderry residents follow CDC guidelines and wear face coverings while in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Town Manager Kevin Smith also reported that Town Hall would be reopening for public business soon and that safety measures will be enforced to maintain safe distancing, etc.
"And we strongly encourage all residents wear masks when they come in the building," Smith said.