Planning Board Chairman Arthur Rugg opened the segment of the Planning Board meeting Wednesday, May 22, regarding Woodmont Commons with an announcement that he had received, late that afternoon, word that a presentation that resident Jack Falvey wanted to present contained names, and one of the individuals named objected to being a part of the presentation.
“They didn’t want to be associated with it in any way,” Rugg said, noting he then met with the town attorney, Michael Ramsdell. “Mr. Falvey has been told that he will not have that presentation and that the Chair would not allow it because of potential libel.”
Rugg said the board had to be careful of libel, and when an individual wants to make a presentation, it has to be screened because it could contain libelous material. He added that the material might be “all over the place and not pertinent” to the subject.
According to the Associated Press Stylebook, “libel means injury to reputation.” Libel is written, as distinguished from slander, which is spoken. According to the Stylebook, “words, pictures, cartoons, photo captions and headlines can all give rise to a claim for libel.”
Rugg said Falvey would not be heard but he could show his material to staff at least a week prior to his presenting it. The attorney said Falvey could, however, still speak about matters relevant to the meeting.
In an email letter sent to Falvey’s supporters, Falvey apologized for not speaking at the meeting. “I checked with Art Rugg (chairman) before the meeting to confirm my presentation,” he wrote in his Et al email listserve. “He told me I would not be allowed to use my visuals because he had received a protest from a citizen and that legal counsel had concurred with his ruling. He would allow me to speak if I were willing to wait till late in the evening. I asked if I could use my Power Point if I took out the offending slide? He said no. I asked if I could show the Londonderry town video as planned for a baseline. He said he had not had time to review it and I could not use it.”
Falvey has asked to be on the agenda for the June 5 Planning Board meeting and then talked to Ramsdell, legal counsel to the Town Council and the Planning Board, to get his legal take on Rugg’s ruling.
“He told me he ruled against the Power Point because he didn’t understand its points,” Falvey said. “He said he ruled against the video because he felt a 40-year-old video was not relevant. I asked him if he had seen the Londonderry promotional video that was put together for the town by the Londonderry Housing and Redevelopment Authority. He said no. I gave him a copy and promised to visit with him when he had.”
Falvey said that rather than get into a distracting debate on First Amendment rights of free speech, he thinks it best to resolve those issues between now and June 5. Resident Mary Tetreau spoke at the end of the May 22 meeting regarding Falvey, and asked that the minutes reflect that Falvey had intended to make his presentation and she thinks his First Amendment Freedom of Speech rights were denied him by Rugg because he was not allowed to put his statement into the record. She went on to identify by description the person she claimed had requested his name not be mentioned.
At Rugg’s request, Ramsdell, the town attorney, responded to Tetreau. “I missed the first part of what was said but I can tell you that what I did hear is factually inaccurate,” the attorney said. “I spoke to Mr. Falvey before he left here this evening. His First Amendment right was not abridged in any way, shape or form.
He was told that he was more than welcome, as any member of the public would be, to come in and speak whatever he had to say, as long as it was relevant to the proceedings. He could make comments or ask questions – whatever he wanted. He chose instead to decide that he wanted to provide me with a disc that had something on it and to have that reviewed for the June meeting.
“But I can assure you that he was not told that he could not speak at this public hearing this evening. In fact he was assured he could,” Ramsdell emphasized. Tetreau said she still believed Falvey’s First Amendment right was violated.
“I believe the problem with this whole process has been the lack of the public’s input and sometimes running late at night, and I’m just saying that I am very concerned about what happened,” she added.