DERRY — Several Town Councilors have taken exception to comments John Burtis of Lorri Lane made at a public hearing on the fiscal year 2014 budget earlier this month, characterizing them as defamatory and derogatory.
At Tuesday night's council meeting, Burtis and several councilors got into a heated debate over those earlier remarks.
When Burtis spoke during the Town Council's public hearing on May 2, he claimed that some town employees load up on equipment and supplies at the end of the fiscal year in order to run the department budgets down to zero.
"Another thing that comes to my mind is at the end of the year when everybody runs to Lowe's or runs to whatever big stores there are with a shopping cart to make sure that their equipment budgets are spent down to zero … and to make sure we spend every last dime we have in our budget on drills and drill bits and saws and everything else," Burtis said on May 2. "Is that really needed?"
During Tuesday night's public forum, Burtis once again addressed the council about excessive town spending as the fiscal year winds down.
Burtis said he was using the shopping cart term as a metaphor to some extent, but added that he has seen town officials spending on supplies as the fiscal year ends.
"When I used the word, I think it was supermarket cart. That's a metaphor that stands for an exaggeration," said Burtis. "What I meant and what I clearly stand for is that these are days when no one has any money, and I think it requires the town administration to put its foot down in May and require individuals and department heads to justify their purchases."
He said he thinks it is ridiculous to buy supplies town departments may not need just to empty out a budget line.
"Have I seen it happen here in Derry? Yeah," said Burtis. "If you want to squeeze me about it, I can tell you the individual."
Councilor Neil Wetherbee said he would like to know the person Burtis saw, and Burtis replied that he saw Fire Chief George Klauber at a store in Londonderry.
"He was picking up a bunch of stuff at the end of the year, and he told me that's what he was doing," Burtis said.
Burtis admitted that Klauber was spending money that was approved in the budget, but questioned whether the equipment was needed.
"When we have situations like this when no one has any money, it might be key for you guys up here who are grilling me about what's going on to think about the people out here paying for it and maybe just put in a piece of paper requiring a justification for these items," said Burtis.
Wetherbee asked Burtis if he was insinuating that town employees were doing something wrong.
"I'm insinuating that the council and the town administration might want to look at what's being spent in May and June," said Burtis. "That's what I've said before and that's what I'm saying tonight."
Councilor Brad Benson said that was not what he had heard from Burtis.
"What I heard is that (town employees) are going to Lowe's and taking shopping carts and loading them up with products," said Benson.
"That's not what I said," said Burtis.
"That's what I've heard and that's what other people have heard," said Benson. "That's an insinuation that people who work very hard for this town are doing something illegal and unethical, and that's what troubles me, John."
Benson said the council chairman typically signs off on the purchase orders for larger items in the budget in the first two months of the fiscal year in order to avoid the back-loading of purchases as implied by Burtis.
"If anything, we are trying to control the back-end loading, and Mr. Anderson and his staff have done a good job of that," said Benson. "But the comments that were made were defamatory and derogatory, because once you say it, people believe it, whether it is true or not."
Burtis asked if the council would go through the purchases made by town departments during the last two months of the fiscal year for the past half-dozen years.
"You can do whatever you would like, John," Benson said.