MERRIMACK CHARTER COMMISSION
AUGUST 2, 2005
Commission member present: Chairman Tom Mahon, Vice Chairman Heather Anderson, Secretary Fran L'Heureux, Peter Batula, Bob Kelley, Finlay Rothhaus, Lon Woods, and David Yakuboff. Excused absence: Tim Tenhave.
Chairman Mahon convened the meeting of the Charter Commission at 7:06pm in the Conference Room of the Town Hall.
Chairman Mahon announced the two public hearing dates scheduled for September 13 and November 8, 2005. He also announced that he has invited representatives from the Town of Bedford, the Town of Londonderry, and the Town of Derry, including their town administrator, council president, and attorney. Members of appointed Town committees have been invited to the August 16 meeting and members of the Town’s elected boards are invited to the August 23 meeting so that they may provide pros and cons of the Town’s current form of government, as well as their input about what form of government Merrimack should operate under.
Chairman Mahon reported that he had received a few responses from his letter regarding attorneys interested in providing legal counsel to the Commission. In summary, the fees ranged from $150 - $225 an hour and associate fees from $130 - $200 an hour. Chairman Mahon stated that he would compile the information received and provide it to the Commission members for review and selection at the next meeting.
Vice Chairman Anderson reported that the web site was up-to-date and stated that an updated Schedule of Meetings incorporating Chairman Mahon’s announcements would be posted and distributed.
David Yakuboff reported that the City Government Options Review Sub-Committee met prior to tonight’s meeting and will also meet before the next two regularly scheduled Commission meetings. Finlay Rothhaus reported that the Town Government Options Review Sub-Committee also met prior to tonight’s meeting and will meet at the same time next week. Tom Mahon reported that the Current Government Review Sub-Committee will meet on this Thursday at 5:30pm.
Peter Batula inquired if the Commission should invite someone from the NHMA to speak to the Commission on the different types of government. Vice Chairman Anderson recommended that an exercise be performed to identify any form of government that was not already a scheduled guest of the Commission so that all of the different types of government could be explored by listening to practitioners.
Dialogue with Guests
James McSweeney, Merrimack’s first town manager, and manager in three cities and another town in New Hampshire spoke to the Commission about his experiences. Mr. McSweeney advocated for the council-manager city form stating he felt that it is a more efficient form than town meeting and especially ballot town meeting.
Steve Fournier is a former city councilor in Somersworth and current town administrator in Epping. Mr. Fournier provided the Commission with an undergraduate paper he wrote on City Charters in New Hampshire. Mr. Fournier also felt that the council–manager city form was more efficient and further supported the “weak mayor” model.
The Commissioners present queried the guests regarding budget preparation and administration, ability to attract business, ability to make timely decisions on issues, and procedures that protect the residents’ ability to have a voice in government. Both speakers agreed that the public’s opportunity to participate was readily available in the city form, but it was a different form of participation when compared to town meeting.
Review of Public Comments of July 26, 2005 Public Hearing
Finlay Rothhaus stated that he heard expressions of frustration with SB2. Vice Chairman Anderson cited the changing of the warrant articles at the deliberative session and wondered whether petitioner’s warrant articles would experience a similar fate if they were initiatives brought forward to a smaller group for decision making. Lon Woods hopes the September 13 public meeting has a grater amount of comments than the July 26 meeting. Peter Batula thinks that once we get closer to a decision, more of the public will participate in the meetings.
Queries to the Attorney General
Chairman Mahon passed out a draft letter to the Attorney General’s Office requesting that they review the Charter Commission’s calendar of milestones prescribed by law to ensure that deadlines are not missed, including determining what to do when a deadline falls on a Sunday or holiday, and for clarification regarding boards of selectmen as governing bodies by charter. Vice Chairman Anderson asked if we should also seek an understanding as to what effects may a charter have on the other legal public entities in town (e.g.; Merrimack Village District and Merrimack School District). After some discussion, it was decided to hold these queries for legal counsel.
Queries to the Department of Revenue Administration
Based on some earlier discussion, Chairman Mahon drafted a letter to the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) seeking clarification regarding whether there was any difference in the amount or in the distribution of State funds to cities and towns. A motion was made by Finlay Rothhaus and seconded by David Yakuboff to send the query to the Department of Revenue Administration. The motion carried 8-0-0.
Government Forms Template
To ensure that the Commission had the ability to conduct an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the different forms of government permitted by NH State Law, Chairman Mahon and Tim Tenhave developed a template for each of the subcommittees to complete. The templates were distributed to the Commission members and the form was discussed. David Yakuboff suggested that another column be added for citations.
Fran L’Heureux brought up the subject of the Commission’s website, advising she received a couple of calls from “older” computer users who couldn’t use the website because Adobe Reader was needed to view the minutes, etc. on the site. She asked if the website could be changed to just clicking on what the public wanted to look at without having to download the Adobe Reader. Vice Chairman Anderson said that all agendas and the final approved minutes could be provided in html; however, the draft minutes would need to continue being provided in PDF.
A motion was made by Peter Batula and seconded by Lon Woods to accept the minutes of July 26, 2005 as printed. Peter Batula spoke on how important the Commission is and stated that few remarks were included in the July 26 minutes. Lon Woods affirmed that any audio tapes and video tapes of the meeting were to be included in the Commission’s files as a supplement to the meeting minutes. The motion carried 8-0-0.
There was no public comment.
Questions from the Press
There were no questions from the press.
Comments from Commissions
There were no comments from the Commissioners.
A Motion to adjourn the meeting was made by Peter Batula and seconded by Bob Kelley. The motion carried 8-0-0. The meeting adjourned at 9:40pm.
Secretary Fran L’Heureux