Judy LeBlanc: Power must be put back into the hands of the selectmen

To the editor:
As a taxpayer and resident of Gorham, I have listened to and participated in discussions about the rising tax rate with other friends and neighbors.
Everyone is concerned about the upcoming re-evaluation and the impact it would have on an already high tax rate and eroding tax base, so I decided to do some research and comparisons to other towns similar in equalized valuation and population.
It was an eye opener. I started to attend budget committee meetings and board of selectman’s meetings and, frankly, didn’t much like what I saw. It was obvious that the budget committee tried to make informed decisions based on the information they were given and when they asked for more information, over time it became clear that the town manager would drag her feet in providing that information, even going so far as to forcing a budget committee member go to the town hall to retrieve the information for the budget committee herself.
So, I decided to review minutes of past meetings, board of selectman and budget committee. It was after reading those minutes in succession that I saw red flags start to appear. So, I re-read those minutes over and over and only then was I able to “connect the dots.”
It became apparent that the biggest part of our problem was the town manager form of government and the power it gives to the town manager to act on their own. That power is provided by RSA 37:6 such as superseding decisions made by the board of selectman as was done with the hiring of interim firechief/EMS director, insert funding for merit raises when a motion to leave $7,000 in the 2015 operating budget failed to receive a second but here it is in the 2017 budget without any further discussion in any of the minutes that I could find.
The budget committee’s concern was the what, the how and the who would benefit as the process was not clearly defined. There was concern that the water and sewer department as well as the library had not been included in any discussion that might have taken place pertaining to the merit raises.
This raised the concern that these raises could become exclusive.There were also comments from the selectmen present that they were not on board with this as presented.
A budget committee member commented on the lack of communication between the town manager, department heads and board of selectman.
I had drafted a aarrant article to discontinue the town manager form of government and with the help of many others got more than the required signatures required to put it in front of the people. I was astounded by the response and who had signed it. I had done my “homework” as many can attest to, and we need, in my and many others opinions, a town administrator who can perform all the duties of a town manager but without the power.
The power to act must be put back into the hands of the board of selectman whom we elected to act on our behalf and not given over to a non-elected official as has happened in the last few years. Many other small towns have abandoned the town manager form of government in favor of a town administrator. It’s time for Gorham to do the same.
Judy LeBlanc