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Candia sessions shine some light on SB2 controversy

Two deliberative sessions in Candia this month underscored what some believe to be a big flaw in the SB2 form of government.

Both sessions drew few voters. At one, a proposal to pay for the closure of the town's incinerator site was amended from $100,000 to $1, and a petition to set specific hours for the Town Clerk's Office was amended to allow the clerk to set the hours "as necessary," with the motion offered by the clerk herself. Another amendment to abolish the town's Conservation Commission was amended to become a vote of "continued support" in the body.

Something similar happened at the town's Feb. 11 School District Deliberative Session, when a petition warrant to reduced kindergarten from a full-day session to a half-day session was amended to include language indicating that the warrant was "advisory" and "non-binding"

"You take away the fundamental right of the people of this town to make the decisions on what happens with their money and in their school," said Judith Szot, the petition's organizer, at the time. "By putting in that sentence, they are taking away the right of the people to petition their government, and I think that's wrong."

Critics say poorly attended sessions are vulnerable to special interests.

There were between 70 to 90 people present at the town session, and about 40 at the school session. For Szot, this is particularly troubling with respect to petition warrants.

"When you change a petition, you take the petitioners' voice away," said Szot. "If a group of citizens puts in a petition, and you've got 99 signatures on it, and 25 people change that petition in a way that it means the opposite, that denies the citizens their right to have their issues decided by the people of the town. ... I think it's a flaw in SB2. We need to have something in the RSAs that says you can't change a petition warrant article. If you don't like it ... organize a campaign and have the petition voted down."

Currently, amendments to petitions and to warrants presented by the selectmen are treated no differently under the law. Szot plans on encouraging her representative to draft legislation precluding such changes to a petition warrant.

Some see no problem with SB2.

"That is what SB2 was built for and what it allows you to do," said Town Moderator Clark Thyng. "I imagine there are those in Concord who are saying it's working just how it's supposed to.''

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