When residents are ejected from meetings, protesters number in the hundreds, television cameras come in, and police are called, we can say with assurance that Derry certainly has revised its budget procedure this year. And let no one mistake that there’s any praise in that statement.
Transparency is nothing but a word to the fearless foursome as they crafted their budget. Where is the information on which the personnel cuts were based? How old is the ambulance that won’t be replaced? None of your business is not the appropriate response, nor is saying it’s the wrong time to ask. As most of the cuts hadn’t come up before, when was the right time?
Meanwhile, the elimination of the human resources position was not discussed in a public meeting, and according to Councilors Phyllis Katsakiores and Joshua Bourdon, was never discussed in non-public session either. We apparently are expected to believe that the foursome just decided at the spur of the same exact moment on May 19 to propose that.
Good thing they didn’t fund the economic developer post. Think about the advertisement that could be written: Come to Derry and open up shop where you can enjoy reduced police and fire protection; icy, unplowed roads; plenty of potholes; and still one of the highest tax rates around.
Democracy in action? The May 19 Town Council meeting was about as far from that as you can get. What we saw was a group of four councilors ignoring their peers and the general public, refusing to justify their proposals, adding cuts that night that no one had previously had a chance to discuss or even contemplate, using the gavel as a metaphorical club to stifle dissent, and treating anyone who objected as the enemy. And for the final insult to the voting public, the meeting was adjourned instead of holding the public forum on the agenda.
Is this what Derry residents want?
Bourdon put the situation in clear but eloquent terms: “These are cuts made out of thin air.” Later he said, “The decisions we made tonight have gone way beyond fiscal responsibility. We are taking some drastic risks. This is out of hand.”
The Derry budget is a hack job. Years ago, the governing officials were known, in the words of the time, as the town fathers. Being a councilor is more than cutting taxes. It’s serving as a role model, just as a parent does. It’s a tremendous responsibility, and requires the ability to listen to all sides, be honest and look at the big picture.
And the big picture of Derry right now is an embarrassment on the edge of disaster.