PARIS – Offended by a sign posted on a selectman’s truck, board Chairman Ernest Fitts III stood by a new system of allowing public comment introduced at selectmen’s meetings this summer.

At a meeting on Nov. 28, selectman Gerald Kilgore displayed a sign on his vehicle reading “Welcome to the Circus” and brought popcorn into the meeting. Kilgore said the sign was in response to both scrutiny of a proposed veterans’ monument in Moore Park and increased public input at the meetings.

“When it’s called a circus, it’s just third-grade-level stuff,” said Fitts. “I was a little shocked that a fellow selectman would do that.”

Kilgore replied that the meetings were meant to focus on town business, with a special section devoted to comments by attending residents.

“Let’s talk when it says comments, and let us get our own business done,” said Kilgore. “If everybody talks out in the audience, why have five selectmen up here?”

In a letter to the editor in the Advertiser Democrat, Fitts invited residents to discuss the issue at Monday’s meeting.

“I will allow public comment at various times throughout the meetings until Gerald Kilgore can prove to this chairman he’s an expert on every issue that comes across our desk,” Fitts wrote. “I will seek the advice of others in some decisions that will get the best results for the public and by the public.”

At Fitts’ first meeting as chairman in July, selectman David Ivey proposed allowing public comment during any of the business articles, not just during the time allocated for “citizens’ comments.” Kilgore and Selectman Raymond Glover opposed the motion.

Fitts also voted against the motion, but requested that the issue be brought before the board again after a review of the town bylaws.

Since bylaws did not specify how public comment should be heard, the board began hearing public input outside of the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting. An article for citizens’ comments is still heard at every meeting.

Fitts said Monday that he believed the increased public input did not significantly affect the length of the meetings because the comments would be heard at some point during the meeting. He said other issues, such as long agendas and controversial issues, have led to longer meetings.

“I really think it’s been way overblown,” he said. “The business does get done, and sometimes we stay late.”

Ivey said many of his decisions were based on comments made by residents during meetings.

However, some residents who spoke expressed caution in allowing input. Resident Anne Stanley said the meeting was the only time selectmen are able to meet as a group and conduct business.

“I’ve been a little bit disturbed by how much the public has talked during these meetings,” said Stanley.

Others expressed distaste at the conflict between Fitts and Kilgore and asked that it not affect meetings. Resident Robert Moorehead said animosity has increased on the board, and compared the conflict to “kids on a playground.”

“This is just beneath all of us,” said resident Franca Ainsworth.

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