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January 16. 2013 10:47PM

Nashua panel rejects public comment proposal

NASHUA - An aldermanic committee on Tuesday rejected a proposed ordinance that would have required select boards to hold two public comment periods during meetings.

Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly filed the proposed ordinance, seeking two separate opportunities for citizens to speak at certain commission and board meetings.

However, the Personnel and Administrative Affairs Committee unanimously voted against the proposal, arguing that most committees already allow public participation and public comment.

"My experience is that people are encouraged to speak," said Alderman Diane Sheehan, Ward 3.

If the ordinance is being proposed just so an alderman has the ability to comment, Sheehan argued that is not the right motivation. Currently, some commissions and boards established by the board of aldermen voluntarily offer public comment periods either at the start or the conclusion of their meetings.

However, Pressly said it is important to have a policy in place that requires public comment periods both at the beginning and the end of meetings.

"Public participation should be encouraged at all levels, at all times," Pressly said.

Agreeing that free speech should not be denied, Alderman Arthur Craffey, Ward 4, said he didn't believe an ordinance was necessary to encourage public comment. Simply reminding boards to allow residents ample time to speak should be adequate, he said.

"I don't think that we need legislation to do this," agreed Alderman Richard Dowd, Ward 2.

There are other ways for residents to have their concerns heard, said Dowd, who suggested that writing a letter or email to committee members is another ideal method. On Tuesday, the committee recommended indefinite postponement of the proposed ordinance. It also rejected a separate proposal by Pressly to add a discussion period to the agenda for full board of aldermen meetings.

Alderman Kathy Vitale, Ward 1, voiced opposition to the proposal, which would have allowed aldermen to discuss topics not included on the prepared agenda. Elected officials need ample time to research topics in order to have meaningful discussions on the subject matter, according to Vitale, whose opinion was supported by other committee members.

Pressly maintained that a healthy debate on city issues is worthwhile, and that topics aside from ordinances and resolutions should be publicly discussed between aldermen.

That proposal was also recommended for indefinite postponement on Tuesday.

The full board of aldermen will still have a chance to vote on both ordinances.

khoughton@newstote.com


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