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October 20, 2013

Sounds of official silence troubles some in N.H.

More boards appoint spokesman to speak for all

Voters and taxpayers in New Hampshire are getting the silent treatment from some elected officials.

Sometimes they stand behind their board chairman. Other times, it’s a paid administrator who answers for them.

But they are refusing to answer questions or offer opinions about what they are doing as public office-holders.

In Derry, the Town Council imposed a gag order on members, refusing to discuss their decision not to renew the town administrator’s contract and pay him severance.

They designated the acting administrator to speak for them.

In communities served by the Timberlane Regional School District, it regularly happens. District policy is that only the chairman officially speaks for the School Board outside meetings. School Board Chairman Robert Collins did not return a call seeking comment.

In Plaistow, library trustees will refer questions to their chairman.

This silent treatment is concerning to Granite Staters.

“I think we’re seeing a spike in that,” Granite State Taxpayers chairman Jim Adams said.

When local officials routinely refuse to speak about issues before them, residents say it’s wrong.

“That’s not right,” Windham Taxpayers Coalition board member Ken Eyring said. “They are working for the people. When people clam up and shield information from the public, they are not performing their duties with the public’s good in mind.”

It’s not the politician’s business that worries citizens.

“These are elected officials doing the people’s business,” Adams said.

Observers see the behavior as more common.

“I’ve noticed it over the last couple of years,” said Dean Spiliotes, Southern New Hampshire University political science professor. “Is this some kind of trend at the local level? Or is it something uniquely New Hampshire?”

Spiliotes isn’t sure.

But he sees in what he calls “blanket moves not to talk” a couple of possible reasons.

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