Change in meeting rules entirely legit, town administrator says

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ilton Selectmen Chairman Ryan Thibeault points to a resident for their comments as Selectman Andy Lucier, left, and Town Administrator Heather Thibodeau look on during An April 2 BOS meeting in Milton. (YouTube video image)

MILTON - Milton's Town Administrator said on Thursday there was no need for the Board of Selectmen to vote on a change in meeting rules enacted by the selectboard chair earlier this month, because as chairman, he is authorized to set the agenda and run the meeting.

Selectmen Chair Ryan Thibeault announced during a nonvideotaped March 26 selectmen's workshop his intention to end the time-honored practice of allowing questions from residents during regular selectmen's meetings.

A draft copy of the workshop's minutes available at Town Hall state that Thibeault "discussed rules and procedures of meetings," including that the public will no longer have the ability to question selectmen during the meeting and that public input will only be allowed at the start of the meeting in the form of a comment, not a question.

According to Thibeault's edict, residents will be allowed a single comment of up to three minutes per meeting, those comments to be made at the start of the meeting before selectmen begin official business.

Other parameters include that the commenter state their name and stand at a podium in front of video cameras when making their comment.

Newly elected selectmen Andy Lucier and Erin Hutchings made no comments as the new rules were introduced during the March 26 workshop, according to the draft minutes.

During an April 2 Board of Selectmen's meeting when Thibeault rolled out the new meeting rules he told residents the board was working on new meeting bylaws which will have all the details of the new "organization" which will be provided to residents "so we can all be on the same page" with regard to meeting protocols.

While several residents openly fumed over the new rules during the meeting, Thibodeau said on Thursday some had changed their minds and were willing to give it a try.

She also said the new rules were not a policy, because there had been no vote over its implementation and said it was within Thibeault's purview to structure the meetings as he saw fit.

The new meeting format now more mirrors the way Rochester City Council meetings are run rather than any nearby towns whose chief governmental body is a board of selectmen.

All of the other neighboring towns' selectmen allow questions from the audience throughout the meetings, and Farmington's town administrator says it's a good thing.

"I think towns should allow questions (of selectmen)," said Arthur Capello, Farmington's TA. "And if they can't answer them, they should get back to them. But it (the Q&A) shouldn't be taken away."

Rochester City Manager Dan Fitzpatrick said it's true that City Council meetings don't allow for a question and answer period from residents, but pointed to a robust committee apparatus that allows for plenty of public input and questioning at those meetings.

"That's where residents can debate the issues if they want," he said.

Milton's next Board of Selectmen's meeting is Monday at 6 p.m. Among the agenda items are "Concerns pertaining to Board of Selectmen," and "March 26 Workshop Concerns," both of which may deal with potential flak over the new rules.

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