Paris selectmen discuss reining in public comments at meetings

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PARIS — The Board of Selectmen discussed setting guidelines on the public comment portion of meetings Monday, after recent long meetings and incidents where residents have accused town employees of corruption.

Selectman Robert Wessels asked to discuss the issue. He said that while campaigning for the position last year, he spoke with hundreds of people and found the tone of the board was a major complaint.

“One of the biggest things that continuously recurred was the disrespect and unprofessionalism at these meetings, both on the board’s part as well as the citizens’ parts,” Wessels said. He said the board has made a lot of progress. “We’ve all made a conscious effort to respectfully disagree,” he said.

At this point, Wessels said, it’s time for the residents at meetings “to do the same thing.”

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“The citizens’ comments are very important. I write them down every week,” Wessels said. “I take them very seriously.”

At the beginning of the meeting, selectmen spoke with an attorney on how to handle employee issues and executive sessions. They also discussed recent incidents where people have made accusations against town employees. The attorney said the chairman should stop those people immediately and declare their statements out of order.

Chairman Sam Elliot agreed and pledged not to allow accusations in public in the future.

The attorney said it was legal for the town to limit the amount of time each person speaks and the number of times they speak.

Town Manager Amy Bernard also commented on the need to shorten the public comments section in her notes to the board before the meeting. She said the public comments section is important, “but needs to be conducted in a professional and respectful manner.”

treaves@sunjournal.com

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