Two Towns with Two Takes

On a recent weekday, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Walt Havenstein was escorted around Londonderry town offices, the Leach Library and fire station by Council Chairman Tom Dolan, then taken on the obligatory campaign stop at the site of the planned Pettengill Road extension. He also was on the agenda of the Town Council meeting, where he offered some promises and answered councilors’ questions.

That kind of parading through town facilities is open to any candidate of any party in Londonderry, and the practice was addressed at a council meeting by Councilor Jim Butler, who felt the need to officially note that the council is a non-partisan board. From then on, political candidates were asked to give a week’s notice of their intent to visit, so it could be publicly announced.

Taking a vastly different tack, the Derry Town Council last week responded to a staff concern about “electioneering” in town offices. In 2004, the then town administrator put a policy in place to deny the request of any campaigning politician to visit town offices and staff. The policy also keeps those politicians from getting on a Town Council agenda.

And the policy distinguishes between those already in office and their challengers. A seated official is welcome to discuss policy or hear from constituents, according to Acting Town Manager Larry Budreau.

Until directed otherwise, Budreau will continue that policy, and the Council did not suggest he do otherwise.

That’s a pretty significant difference between the adjoining towns  – almost a direct opposite – on the matter of political campaigning.

We prefer Derry’s approach. While sitting politicians may well be candidates for reelection, they’re far less likely to show up to tour municipal facilities – their stated purpose is usually to carry out official duties, such as a dedication. Someone seeking office, however, and getting the grand tour of town employees at work, is a different story.

And getting on the agenda to introduce themselves? No reason for that to be the business of a non-partisan Town Council, which should have plenty of town-related business to discuss. Just as town employees have enough to do without hosting a stop on the campaign trail.

Let’s be honest. People running for office are going to give us broad generalities and say what most people want to hear. Lower taxes. Less government. How to get there? Well, wait and see.

And as an aside, maybe Pettengill Road can be hands-off for campaign visits until something major can be announced. People who aren’t in office are unlikely to have the magic bullet for that area and need not repeat for the umpteenth time how important it is.

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