LONDONDERRY — A town councilor is once again being accused by another of having conflicts of interest due to her speaking in public at town meetings on various topics while also owning local newspapers that could profit from advertising revenue from those involved with those topics.
Debra Paul is once again in some hot water with fellow councilor Jim Butler, with Butler concluding a recent Town Council meeting voicing his concerns over what he called conflicts of interest when it came to a discussion at a Planning Board meeting last month and a specific development plan that Paul publicly commented on as a Town Council liaison to that board.
Paul, elected in March 2020, is the owner/publisher of The Londonderry Times and the Nutfield News/Tri-Town Times.
The Planning Board meeting in question was April 14, with a conceptual review and non-binding discussion on the agenda concerning a new two-story medical office building proposed for property within the Woodmont Commons development.
According to Butler, Paul should have recused herself from any discussion/votes about that development or any other plan that might benefit her newspapers through advertising revenue.
Butler cited Londonderry's town charter and its specific rules governing what an elected councilor can or can not do when speaking in public or being part of a board or commission.
"This is not the first time this has been a concern," Butler said.
Paul stressed she only "commented on the look" of the proposed medical building and the group planning that project hasn't advertised with her newspapers for years.
Last June, Butler also accused Paul of having conflicts of interest when she spoke out publicly at a town budget meeting, where Butler said she had no business making comments about an issue, that potentially had nonpublic information, due to her elected official status.
Butler said Paul's comments may have made public note of privileged information.
During that time, town attorney Mike Ramsdell was part of the discussion, saying it is wise to make sure there are no conflicts of interest or ethics violations when it comes to a person's private businesses, being part of a town board that could benefit that business, or speaking publicly.
Paul was warned then that when speaking in public, she is a councilor first and foremost.
She maintained she did nothing wrong, adding she felt "blindsided" by Butler's accusations at the most recent meeting. But the ongoing exchange between the two councilors got more heated.
Council Chairman John Farrell said the group must find a solution.
"We have a conflict and what I'd like to do is resolve it," Farrell said. "Conflicts of interest can put the town at risk. Let's see if we can deal with this and move forward, look for the best path."
Farrell instructed Town Manager Kevin Smith to work with the town attorney to get clarity and information about moving forward from the issue.
"I don't want to continue this," Farrell said. "We follow the rules and we follow the law."
Butler said councilors have to abide by the rules of the town charter.
"Recuse yourself, and you didn't," Butler told Paul.