Selectmen won’t accept email comments during meetings

You may be able to watch Board of Selectmen meetings live on public access television from the comfort of you home, but if you want to ask questions or register a comment on any of the items discussed, you’ll have to get up off your couch and head to the Town House. That’s because the board last week nixed a plan to accept input via email during their meetings.

Chairman John Rooney admitted the idea was “out-of-the-box,” but said his proposal to allow at-home viewers to email questions and comments to the board during their meetings was an attempt to “energize the community to participate.”

“It would keep selectmen apprised of individual thoughts prior to a vote,” Rooney said. “If we had this information when discussing the Swap Shop, we may have been persuaded to delay the vote until we had another meeting.”

But Selectmen Bill Boland and Dan Kolenda said the process of fielding email questions would be too unwieldy.

Kolenda listed off a litany of potential challenges, from not being able to verify the identity of emailers, to what would happen in the event of an Internet outage, to the additional work required for the Town Administrator to screen the emails. He also said email would not allow for back-and-forth discussions, which he called “an important part of the democratic process.”

“We have allowed our society to become couch potatoes instead of participating,” Boland said. “We’ve talked about School Committee meetings where there’s little or no participation. I think we go almost to the other extreme.”

Rooney made a motion to accept email input during their meetings, but the motion was not seconded by either Kolenda or Boland, so it never made it to a vote.

Resident Nancy Vargas, who attended the meeting, said selectmen could encourage more participation by making items on the published agenda more detailed. “The agendas are cryptic,” Vargas told the board. “(Agendas are) the lifeline to the community for what happens in this room. They need to be spelled out.”

Selectmen receive a packet of information in advance of each meeting that contains background documentation related to the agenda items. At a meeting last month, the board decided to start posting the packet along with the agenda so residents can more easily follow along.

“It’s a bit of a baby step in making the packet available,” Rooney said. “Hopefully that will be able to guide (residents’) attendance.”

You can find the packet posted on the town website along with the agenda.

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