Where’s the Transparency?

At last week’s Derry Town Council meeting, Richard Tripp, the newest councilor, told the crowd, “If it takes a crisis to get people involved, so be it.”
Especially when it’s a manufactured crisis. Because this crisis didn’t have to happen, but it sure got people involved.
The Town Council has been holding their cards very close to the chest with the proposed budget this year. Asking its brand new town administrator to come in with a 2.5 percent cut to the tax rate, they eventually received a budget proposal with a 1 percent cut. But their views on it are unknown.
Do they like the 1 percent cut? Do they favor a previously suggested 2 percent cut? Do they really want 2.5 percent? The voters are not getting an answer, and when Councilor Josh Bourdon suggested last week that a special meeting with a public forum and non-binding preliminary vote be held, Council Chair Tom Cardon told him it wasn’t “agenda-ized.”

So what? The people deserve to know, and a special meeting can easily be called. And while that was done eventually, with a special May 19 meeting set offering a chance for each councilor to make his or her views known, the drama could have been avoided by sharing viewpoints all along.

It’s getting old to hear that many of the Councilors heard residents say during their campaigns that taxes are too high. Of course they are; who wouldn’t say that? But did the Councilors ask residents if they wanted fewer firefighters? Fewer police on duty? Cuts to other services?

Instead, residents have come out in startling numbers these past weeks to urge caution over the proposed cuts, or to seek level funding. A member of the Highway Safety Committee and Zoning Board of Adjustment has even resigned in protest over the proposed cuts. Gordon Graham told the Council last week, “We have been sitting here for weeks and have not seen the Council take a vote.” Where’s the vaunted transparency, so residents might comment on the Council’s views before they take their vote?

School Board member Brenda Willis said it in the simplest terms: “It’s hard to comment on something you don’t know anything about.”
While the Council was upfront about wanting to change the budget process this year, its changes seem arbitrary. No comments about how best to serve the public. No comments about what potential cuts would mean – until residents demanded to hear that information from department heads. No comments about how cuts today would affect future budgets under Derry’s tax cap. No comments. Agenda-ize those, please.

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