Charter group to meet Jan. 8

NASHUA – A committee working to finalize a draft charter for a proposed regional water district expects to complete its job by the end of January.

Marilyn Peterman, an Amherst resident and chairwoman of the Pennichuck Regional Water District Committee, said last week that the panel will meet again Jan. 8 at the town offices in Bedford to discuss revisions to the document recommended by residents during a public hearing held in Nashua on Dec. 18.

If the committee isn’t ready to vote on the charter at the Jan. 8 meeting, Peterman said, another session will be held Jan. 15.

The group, composed of representatives from Nashua and 15 area towns, then plans to send the charter back to the governing bodies of the communities involved so they can vote on it. In Nashua, it will be up to the Board of Aldermen to vote on the document.

Some communities have authorized their boards of selectmen to approve or disapprove the proposal. Others will have residents vote on it at town meetings in March.

“There is some sense of urgency here,” Peterman said.

During the Dec. 18 hearing at the north campus of Nashua High School, several residents complained Peterman was trying to rush the approval process by allowing just 10 minutes for each of the charter’s 24 articles to be discussed.

Peterman said later in an interview that she wasn’t trying to rush the process, she was simply trying to move it along. In the end, the hearing lasted more than four hours.

According to Alderman-at-Large Fred Britton, who will leave office in January, but will stay on as Nashua’s representative on the committee if the new board approves his appointment next month, the panel has been working on the draft charter for more than a year and a half.

Peterman apologized during the session to people who thought she was rushing, including former alderman and state Sen. Barbara Pressly, who led the drive for the city to try an purchase the Pennichuck Corp., then turn the assets of the water utility over to a regional district.

Thus far, the city has been unsuccessful in its efforts to acquire the company.

Peterman said it’s important that the committee finalize the charter, so the communities can “become involved in the purchase of the (water) system.”Pennichuck Watershed Council and several other area residents said they weren’t concerned about how long the process takes. Right now, they said, the committee is giving too much leverage to municipal officials in various towns that would make up the water authority, and not enough power to ratepayers.

Pressly and others questioned the wording of several provisions of proposal, saying its language needs to be clearer in many areas. They questioned articles on everything from when public hearings would be required on matters that come before the district’s board of directors to wording that is designed to prevent conflicts of interest among the directors.

“Everything should have sunshine and everything should have public notice,” Fuller said.

Under the proposed charter, each community would have one vote on the district’s board of directors. But because more than 70 percent of Pennichuck’s customers live in Nashua, the city’s vote would carry more weight on issues such as water rates and capital improvements.

Pressly said she was especially concerned about the conflict-of-interest article, because when she served as an alderman during early 1990s, three members of the board were convicted of corruption and sent to jail.

She said she never wants that to happen again.

But Britton said there is no corruption is City Hall now. Asked whether he thought Pressly was off base by raising the issue, Britton, said, “Yes. Beyond a doubt.”

“I think what Barbara needs to do,” Britton said, “is become a part of the team.”