"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
Alexander Hamilton

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“The right-to-know law doesn’t really say anything about public input, If the meeting is not noticed as having public input, the public does not have a right under right-to-know to say a damn thing at a meeting.” Richard D. Sager, Tuftonboro NH Town Counsel

In response to a dust up between the budget committee and the Board of Selectmen, the Tuftonboro BoS will not accept public input at their meetings, at least for the near future. And their Town counsel agrees that they do not have to.
The Union Leader today published the story. In it, the BoS state that anyone who violates the "no input rule" will be arrested. Chair Dan Duffy was quoted as saying “For the time being, we have, as a group, decided to act because there are some people who are mudslingers, who are anti-anything in this town. We have received a legal opinion that the meetings are our meetings, and we can hold them as we wish, as long as we give proper notice as to whether public input will be allowed. In the past, we have always allowed public input at our meetings, but when they started backstabbing, we had to do something.” 
So what happened? According to the Tuftonboro March 30th 2015 BoS minutes, " Given the inappropriateness of some of the comments made by the public at last week’s Selectmen’s meeting, we have been in contact with the Town’s attorney for advice. Based upon his advice, we will not be opening up this week’s meeting for public comment, as we have historically done in the past. We are not required to accept public comment during Selectmen’s meetings. Boards are only required to accept public comment during public hearings, such as Planning Board public hearings, by way of example. Whether we will ever include a public comment section during our meetings will be determined by this Board at some point in the future. The purpose of our meetings is to conduct the business of the town, and the public has a right to attend our meetings. However, the right to attend is not to be confused with the right to speak at the meetings. We ask that all of you who attend refrain from speaking during our meetings. If you must speak among yourselves, you are requested to leave the room to do so as not to disturb others who are in attendance, and so as not to interrupt this Board. If anyone speaks out of turn, the person will be asked to be quiet. If that person speaks out of turn again, we will ask that person to leave the meeting. If the person does not leave, we will recess the meeting to allow a police officer to escort the person out of the meeting. If you have business you need to discuss with the board, please make an appointment with Lynne Brunelle asking to be placed on the agenda. You will be required to specify the topic, and the discussion will be limited to that topic."
Looking back at the prior weeks minutes ( March 23rd 2015) the only reference to anything "inappropriate " was the following: "Steve Brinser - Correspondence from Budget Committee Member regarding Library Info and related comments by the Selectmen on March 10, 2015: Steve Brinser requested an appt. with the BOS to discuss his email of March 2nd sent to the BOS and Budget Committee entitled “Lack of Transparency Continues” regarding the absence of the 2015 Dept. Cost Detail for the Library in the Town Report. At the March 10th BOS meeting, Selectman Sundquist read a statement into the record in which she addressed emails, letters to the editor, social media posts and general negative comments aimed at the BOS that were “disappointing and disrespectful”. Mr. Brinser believes this statement was directed solely at him and takes issue with it. Mr. Brinser read a statement entitled “Allegations of Disrespect” which included a transcript of that portion of the March 10th meeting and asked that the transcript be included as part of the BOS minutes. Selectman Sundquist assured Mr. Brinser that her statement was an overall response to these issues, not directly to him, and commented that if he had simply asked the BOS about the Library 2015 Dept. Cost Detail this wouldn’t have become an issue. At the 9 a.m. March 2nd Selectmen’s Meeting, Selectman Sundquist explained that the Library Cost Detail was erroneously omitted from the report and asked Lynne to email it to all town depts., committees and interested parties. Concurrently, Mr. Brinser sent the email accusing the BOS of “lying by omission”, being “false and misleading” as “an obvious attempt to obfuscate the actual costs of operating the library”. Mr. Brinser requested a formal apology from the BOS and asked “the malicious behavior to stop”"
In the Union Leader article, Mr, Binser and Budget Committee member Bob McWhirter were not happy with this decision. Binser felt his reputation was tarnished and McWhirter felt it was retribution for his opposition to the Library project at town meeting. Chair Duffy felt McWhirter was smarting over his wife being let go as a town employee.
No matter what the reason, punishing the public in general by not allowing comment under threat of arrest is not conducive to an effective governing body. Sure you won't have to listen to criticism or someone whose viewpoint opposes yours or heaven forbid , be criticized, but you will be hiding behind a loophole in the law that does not allow the public to participate contemporaneously with it's elected officials.   
So Tuftonboro Selectmen have chosen to take the Alton route and use the threat of police action to control their meetings. That is a cowardly governing style. How sad for the residents of Tuftonboro. When we here in Moultonboro went through a similar period ( no police threat however) a few years back, it did nothing to quiet the voices, just made them more vocal where it counted, at the ballot box and town meeting. 


Joe Cormier/jcormier2@myfairpoint.net said...

Human (or inhumane) nature being what it is, it is indeed, unfortunate that: "CAN'T WE ALL GET ALONG".

Answer: Hell no ... not without intervention.

It would seem a modicum of sense, by all, could be a solution. If a public body is conducting its meeting, and someone from the audience, interrupts, asks, and is acknowledged, than why not let the person be heard? Or set a time for that activity.

Maybe the definition of "interrupts," as opposed to being "disruptive" should be distinguished.

If a caveat is given, then it is up to the public body to take whatever action legally required to execute their charge, while exercising some prudent judgement.

It would seem that if someone wants to be an elected official, and provide a service to the community, they should conduct themselves in such a manner as to accomplish their goal, being cognizant of differing temperaments. That goes for the public body, as well.

There's a kernel of truth and wisdom in the statement:


Anonymous said...

Abraham Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”