Paris selectmen vote to change public comment policy

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PARIS — Selectmen adopted new rules for public comments Monday, which will bar personal attacks and limit residents to five minutes apiece without special permission from the board.

To adopt the new rules, selectmen will have to adjust the board’s bylaws. Selectmen were agreeable with the new rules. They voted unanimously to pass them, with a couple of working changes.

“It gives some people an idea of what to expect,” said Town Manager Amy Bernard, who wrote a draft of new commenting rules. She said she examined rules from other towns.

Bernard said the main issues to address were the extended length of the comments and the occasional personal insults against town employees and other residents.

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“While we do not want to inhibit the public’s ability to discuss their concerns or comment, this section should not be overtaking the entire board meeting,” Bernard said. Although comments were brief at Monday’s meeting, recent meetings have spent more than half an hour on comments. 

“We won’t have any personal attacks,” Bernard said. Constructive criticism is fine, she said, but complaints about town employees should be made in private to the town manager.

“We’re just going to keep it to the issue, not the person,” she said. Complaints about the town manager should be made to the chairman or vice-chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

Anyone intending to speak at length on an issue should request to get onto the meeting agenda. To get an item on the meeting agenda, residents must contact the town manager by noon on the Monday a week before the meeting. The extra time allows Bernard to speak with department heads and research the issue to prepare information for the selectmen.

The proposed rules are more open than Dixfield’s new policy, which reinstates public comments but where “complaints are not allowed.”

treaves@sunjournal.com

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