This week, the Board of Selectmen adopted a Comment Policy. The policy seemed less about adopting new rules and more about clarifying their code of conduct for the public.
The policy is intended to address what selectmen appear to have deemed ruly or disrespectful behavior by residents at some town committee meetings.
The new policy will apply not only to BOS meetings, but also to boards/committees appointed by selectmen. (Yes, that includes the Zoning Board of Appeals.)
The policy prohibits disruptive behavior and dictates:
All remarks and dialogue in public meetings must be respectful and courteous, free of rude, personal or slanderous remarks.
The text largely pulls from Massachusetts General Law. It also includes language intended to help boards comply with the state’s Open Meeting Law. Resident Desiree Aselbekian questioned the duplicative nature of much of the document.
Selectman Dan Kolenda had recommended adopting a policy and spearheaded drafting it. He explained that he wanted one concise document that residents could read, rather than asking them to research state laws.
There was some debate around the line:
Except in unusual circumstances, any matter presented under “Public Comment” will not be debated or acted upon by the Board at the time it is presented.
One resident* recommended including a line that explains how someone looking for a lengthy discussion should proceed (e.g., contact the Chair to get on the agenda.) Selectman Paul Cimino disagreed, saying he didn’t want to push people to not take advantage of public comment. And the Chair can always cut off discussion, and direct for an item to be placed on the next agenda.
Aselbekian pointed out that the board has often had constructive discussion with public commenters. She didn’t approve of characterizing those exchanges as unusual.
Cimino and Selectman John Rooney concurred. Kolenda and Chair Brian Shea were more concerned with ensuring that discussion during public comment doesn’t veer into violation of Open Meeting Laws.
Selectmen all agreed that useful discourse often occurs. Cimino and Rooney felt it should be up to the Chair’s discretion to determine how far the discussion goes based on the time available and whether or not it is a violation.
Rooney asserted that if the sentence remained he would still engage in “active discourse” with the public and deny it counted as debate.
Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf recommended adopting the policy and making changes down the road if needed. The board unanimously adopted the new policy.
Click here to read the policy.
*Ironically, when one resident commented on the draft policy, the board forgot one long standing rule, reaffirmed in the document.
Shea recognized “Mr. Litt”(?) to comment. The resident didn’t state his full name and address. Without it, I couldn’t verify his name quickly enough to include in this post. (If you know who the resident was, feel free to add it in comments below.)