When it comes to candidate visits, practices vary from town to town
LONDONDERRY — With the gubernatorial election coming up in November and the state presidential primary less than two years away, it won’t be long before political hopefuls begin hopping on the campaign trail in many Granite State cities and towns.
For some communities, that means requiring candidate appearances on town properties to be publicly posted well in advance, while others have rules dictating what’s permitted — and what isn’t — inside municipal facilities.
At Monday’s Londonderry council meeting, following a brief scheduled appearance by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Walt Havenstein, Councilor Jim Butler voiced his concerns.
“When we get a request to appear at Town Hall and it’s political in nature, I think it’s important to note that the Town Council is a nonpartisan board,” said Butler.
Londonderry has been the site of two recent candidate visits: Havenstein toured the town’s facilities last Friday and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Senate hopeful visited during the winter.
Town officials said plans for Havenstein’s tour had been arranged just a day in advance. The candidate’s appearance at the council meeting was posted on the town website Friday and was included on the meeting agenda.
Only a handful of residents attended the meeting. Several councilors expressed regret that Town Manager Kevin Smith wasn’t present for Friday’s tour, which coincided with school vacation week (and Smith’s family vacation).
“In all fairness, I think we should be able to give citizens at least a week’s notice when something like this is happening,” Butler said on Monday. “And I believe our town manager should be present for every tour that’s political in nature.”
Butler further suggested that the town consider “posting anything political in nature a week in advance, and printing advance notice in the local papers.”
Council Chairman Tom Dolan said Executive Council hopeful Jim Adams is scheduled to speak at the May 19 Londonderry Town Council meeting.
“We’re not sure if he wants a tour yet,” Dolan said. “But we’ve always welcomed candidates from any party to visit our town, as well as incumbents. We’re certainly open to it.”
Dolan said that if a political appearance morphed into a debate at a Town Council meeting, he’d ask folks to take it out in the hallway.
“We don’t want our meetings to turn into a press conference,” said Dolan.
Councilors agreed to discuss the idea of a potential town policy more in the coming months.
The town of Windham has no official policy regulating candidate visits, according to Town Administrator David Sullivan. However, candidates are encouraged to check in with the police department in advance as a courtesy.
Sullivan said that he couldn’t recall an instance where a candidate had asked to make an appearance at a board of selectmen’s meeting.
“It’s never occurred, it’s never happened here,” Sullivan said. “But I’d tend to say the board wouldn’t agree to it. In general, we try to keep things nonpartisan here.”
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said the city doesn’t prohibit candidates from speaking during aldermen meetings, noting that “we don’t limit public comment to our residents.”
However, such appearances, like all other public comments, would be limited to the “general public comment” segment of the meetings, held toward the end of the night.
“We’ve also had our share of candidates come by and tour city hall,” Lozeau said Tuesday. “We don’t allow them to campaign (on town property), but so far this hasn’t been an issue.”
Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey said some political candidates had previously requested to speak during a public board meetings, though the decision on whether they’re allowed to do so rests with the board chairman.
“If they’re here seeking a few minutes to campaign, the (Board of Selectmen) chair has historically not allowed them on the agenda,” Hickey said on Tuesday.
Hickey said he doesn’t have an issue with allowing candidates to visit Town Hall, albeit with some restrictions.
“Generally, I’d allow them to walk through a town building as long as they are not interrupting the day-to-day business of the town,” Hickey said. “But I wouldn’t allow a posting in advance of the visit.”
In Hudson, the town’s philosophy on candidate visits appears somewhat similar.
“We’ve had candidates come through and walk around (at Town Hall) in the past, so it’s pretty much allowed here,” said Hudson Town Administrator Steve Malizia. “But we don’t allow them to use our rooms for campaigning purposes. There aren’t going to be any caucuses or rallies going on inside.”
As for candidate speeches during Board of Selectmen meetings, Malizia said that the board “doesn’t allow for political diatribes.”
“That’s not what the board of selectmen is here for,” he said, though noted that a political contender might occasionally be permitted to speak out in the context of a public discussion pertaining to town-related business, at the board’s discretion.
“Sometimes it’s a fine line,” Malizia said.