Too Close for Comfort

Appearances count.
Much as we’ve been trained to judge people by their words and what’s in their heart, we all pay attention to appearances every day. And it’s a good thing for people who serve on elected and appointed boards to take appearances seriously as well. Sadly, Derry doesn’t have an ethics policy. It should. It helps to have standards of conduct set in writing, so everyone is literally on the same page. And state statute makes clear the question of what constitutes a quorum.

Standard ethics policy language will explain its purpose as giving the public confidence in the integrity of its government. And in a lot of ways, that’s what appearances are all about. Earlier this month, a Derry resident observed a quorum of the Town Council seated together in conversation at a local restaurant – in the company of the town administrator – after an official meeting had adjourned. When a councilor who was not part of that quorum was told of the gathering, she complained, and the councilors and the town administrator defended their actions as being a purely social event.

Perhaps it was. Just a group of friends – and the person they supervise – getting together after a council meeting for some refreshment and social time. We aren’t suggesting otherwise. Did they chat about what happened in the previous few hours? No one will ever know. And that’s what this is all about. It wasn’t a Christmas party or an employee luncheon, where you would expect to see a quorum of the council present. Maybe a quorum of the council all go to the same church, and see each other each week as they head inside to worship.

This is a little different. RSA 91-A says “meeting” does not include “any chance meeting or a social meeting neither planned nor intended for the purpose of discussing matters relating to official business and at which no decisions are made; however, no such chance or social meeting shall be used to circumvent the spirit of this chapter.” That’s where things get sketchy. The gathering likely was not a “chance” event but it surely was “social.” We doubt anyone said, “hey guys, let’s get together after the meeting to conduct official business and make some decisions.” But to some people, it still didn’t look right. And Derry needs to look good if it’s ever going to shake off its reputation for infighting. Appearances count.

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