Council Disregards Previous Plan, Votes Down Ventilator Grant

A routine public hearing on grant acceptance turned into an exploration of Town Council etiquette and relationships in a snowy night meeting Dec. 17.
The Town Council held a public hearing on a proposed grant from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services for four HT-70 Portable Transport Ventilators. The state funds were earmarked for use in a Critical Care and Supplemental Oxygen program, and Fire Chief George Klauber, who spoke to the issue, said the units would help his ambulance teams work with patients needing ALS (Advanced Life Support) and would also be useful in a large-scale emergency.

Klauber, speaking for himself and Derry Emergency Management Director Chuck Hemeon, said the automated units would replace the current “bag” system, would be more efficient and would free up a pair of hands. He said Hemeon had estimated that during the past year, Derry ambulances transported 25 patients who would have benefited from the technology.
Klauber said Hemeon would train users, track the inventory and provide routine maintenance for the units.
Resident Mark Flattes asked what the cost was to the taxpayer.
Klauber said the units were free, but some disposable equipment would be needed. Based on 25 uses, he estimated that at $1,250 a year, though he added that the money was already in his budget under “disposable equipment.”
Routine calibration of the units would be $600 over three years, but that money was already in the budget as well, Klauber added.
In his opinion, “That’s well worth it for the 25 times we’d use it a year.”
“How important is it to have these?” Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores asked.
Klauber said DHHS received the money in part for clinics that would open during a “medical surge” such as the H1N1 virus. Public Health Coordinator Garrett Simonsen has put together a plan to open a clinic at West Running Brook Middle School if a pandemic were to occur, and Klauber said current usage of the units would get them off the shelves and into the community.
“How different are they from the ones we have now?” Katsakiores asked.
They are more efficient, Klauber said, adding, “They will enhance what we’re capable of now.” Also, he said, they would be available in the event of a large-scale pandemic that would require opening clinics.
After the public hearing, Chairman Michael Fairbanks made a motion to postpone a vote on the grant until Jan. 7. Fairbanks, Katsakiores and Brad Benson voted yes, while Al Dimmock, Tom Cardon and Mark Osborne voted no. The motion failed.
Councilor Brad Benson asked that the vote be postponed until Neil Wetherbee, who was absent, could cast a vote. “Isn’t this common courtesy, folks?” he asked, noting that the Council had agreed in a previous meeting to postpone all votes until Wetherbee could be with them.
“The reason it was put on the agenda was to have the public hearing,” Fairbanks responded.
Benson asked him to do something to postpone the vote, saying, “You’re in charge of this circus.”
Cardon said, “We have an agenda and we should stick to it. I can’t imagine myself calling you up and asking you to change a meeting.”
Osborne made a motion to approve the grant. Katsakiores and Fairbanks voted yes, while Cardon, Dimmock, Osborne and Benson voted no – for different reasons.
In the public input part of the meeting, Flattes urged them to reconsider accepting the grant. “Life is a terrible thing to lose,” Flattes said. “Are we being penny-wise, pound-foolish?”
Osborne, in explaining his vote, pointed to the long-term effects of accepting the grant. “I am offended,” he said, “at what’s considered ‘Homeland Security.’” With the recent budget prepared by Congress and the cuts to military retires, he said it “bothered” him that “Homeland Security has money to give away.”
“Nobody here is pro-death, or anti-Fire Department,” he told Flattes.
But Osborne is concerned about federal spending, and the only mechanism he has is to vote on it in November and try to control expenses from the Council platform, he said. “To just take it because it’s money is wrong,” he said. “It’s taxpayer money regardless.”
Resident Bob Graham agreed. “If what we accept the grant for is important enough, we would have had it in our budget,” he said.
Benson said the reason he voted no is so it could be revisited in another meeting. “There is no reason,” he said, “that we should not have state-of-the art equipment.”
A visibly upset Town Clerk Denise Neale, who keeps records for the Council, took the microphone to point out that the decision not to vote on the issue until January was laid out in the Dec. 3 minutes. “You had a whole discussion on it” she said. “It is on tape and in my minutes.” 
She added, “Why am I here if you’re not reading the minutes? It’s disrespectful to the time I spend preparing them.”
Neale concluded, “If you’re not abiding by your own words…That’s not what the citizens elected you for.”
Benson referenced the “total disregard” of Cardon, Dimmock and Osborne in asking for the vote that night. “You three ran him over,” he said, referring to Fairbanks. “There is an arrogance on that side of the table. You can do what you want to do because you have the votes.” 
“When I see something on the agenda, I’m going to vote for it,” Cardon replied.
And Osborne said, “Who’s calling people names? I don’t want the entire Council painted” as disagreeable.
Osborne agreed with Cardon. “If something is on the agenda. it’s a promise, a commitment to the town at large,” he said.
“Your word and your bond don’t mean anything,” Benson countered.
“You can be as arrogant as anybody,” Dimmock told Benson.
Fairbanks said he would take responsibility for the agenda item. “I thought it was a time-sensitive issue,” he said. He added, “I will continue to accommodate the Council’s wishes as long as there are no adverse consequences.”
But Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau said it was his fault. “In the Dec. 3 meeting, the Council clearly by consensus said they would postpone the vote until Jan. 7,” he said. “The timing of public hearing notices is tight. I said, ‘Go ahead and get the public input.’”
And Fairbanks, he said, said, “Sure, and we’ll ask for a motion to postpone the vote,” Budreau recalled.
Budreau said in his experience in town affairs, “It’s not a good idea to be adamant that you’re always going to vote after a public hearing.” Some issues need time to gel, he theorized.
“You don’t want to spend two hours discussing an issue and then look up and realize it’s 10 minutes to 10,” he said, referring to the Council’s official shut-down time.
Flattes expressed dismay at the Council’s arguing and suggested that the town bring in a facilitator to help them with “trust issues.”

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