Resident Glenn Douglas asked the Town Council whether it was its policy not to answer e-mails, and if so, to make that policy known on the town’s website. “I heard tonight that the council doesn’t respond to e-mails at least for the last couple of years,” Douglas said at Monday night’s council meeting.
Douglas then read a correspondence he said was written by Council Chairman John Farrell to the other councilors on April 2, 2012. What he read states that Farrell asked councilors, when contacted by constituents, town officials or media, to “informally commit to returning those emails, phone calls and requests within 24 hours. If you can be responsive, please do so, and if you don’t know the answer, please refer to the Town Manager or Chair. E-mails to the entire town council, please let me try to respond and I will contact all of you. If you feel compelled to respond before I can within the 24 hours, please copy the other members.”
Douglas said that last year he had spent five months in another state on business and had written four or five e-mails and received no response. “If you’re not going to answer e-mails, maybe we should update the website to say that ‘we don’t respond to e-mails,’ because this is the first time that I have ever heard that the council doesn’t respond to e-mails,” Douglas said.
Douglas said if the public has to come to the meetings to get responses, “that’s great, but that doesn’t work when you’re 1,200 miles away.” Councilor Tom Dolan said that because of the state’s transparency laws, especially RSA 91-A, “conversations in private and not in public were walking a fine line with the Right To Know laws.” He said what he observed from the chairman was that when an e-mail came in, he answered it if he considered it to be important.
“There were two e-mails today that were answered in public here today, one from Jack Falvey and another from Glenn Douglas,” Dolan noted. Dolan said that when an issue comes up in which they all have an emotional interest, Farrell quickly has said, “stop, you cannot have conversations via e-mail with each other about this. You have to engage in a public discussion and e-mail is private, not public.”
“We have virtually shut down a vast majority of e-mail interchanges with each other collectively so it doesn’t look like we’re deliberating out of the public eye. That’s why some of the e-mail traffic has stopped,” Dolan said. “Then maybe you should put an auto-respond on your e-mails that state it won’t be responded to unless it’s at a public meeting. How is anyone who posts an e-mail supposed to know?” Douglas said.
“Respectfully, very respectfully, I understand what you’re trying to say. There was a councilor who was completely embarrassed for absolutely no reason and that person’s name was dragged through the press in the mud, and it won’t happen on my watch,” Farrell responded.
Farrell said the council would operate as transparently as possible and would answer any e-mail that was possible to answer. He added that every e-mail Douglas had ever sent him was discussed in public.
“I understand that you like to operate in a certain way and this is the way I operate. I am operating within the guidelines of the law,” Farrell said.
Farrell added that he would not have a councilor embarrassed again. When Douglas asked what Farrell’s allegation about the press embarrassing a councilor had to do with answering an e-mail, Farrell said he was not going to debate it with him. “Of course you won’t,” Douglas responded. Before he could say more, Farrell used his gavel.
“We’re not doing this. I’m done,” Farrell said. “That’s how we’re going to address things going forward. I’m not going to sit here and argue with you in public, in an e-mail or in a website. We will address them within the guidelines of the RSA.”
“So I’m done. I can no longer talk,” Douglas said. Farrell said he could continue speaking if he so desired. “I’d like to bring up the thing on the blog because it seems to get thrown around quite a bit because I run a blog,” he said. “It’s not the anonymous comments that come from my blog, it’s the anonymous comments on the blog that is supported by the Town of Londonderry, and paid for by the Town of Londonderry.”
Farrell said he wasn’t sure what Douglas was talking about and acknowledged that Douglas’ blog did not run anonymous entries. He asked Douglas which blog was supported by the town and paid for with town funds. “Visitlondonderry.com, which is a subsidiary of ImageAbility, which owns londonderry.net,” Douglas said.
“And they get paid by taxpayer dollars?” Farrell asked. Acting Town Manager William Hart said the town was a member and paid $120 per year for membership, and that it was like doing business with any other business in town. “$190,” Douglas corrected. “Is that what it is? And that’s up in June,” Hart said.
When Douglas then made reference to special meetings and phone calls, Farrell advised him to make his accusation and file charges with the Attorney General. Douglas claimed he did not accuse anyone of anything illegal. Farrell then asked him to explain his point. “Tell people that you are not going to respond to certain things,” Douglas said. “Mr. Douglas, under the guidelines of the law, we will respond as best as we can within 24 hours,” Farrell responded, and Douglas left the podium.