With the election cycle over, it was time for the Town Council to choose who would become the new Chairman and Vice-Chairman. It was unanimously voted that John Farrell would replace Tom Dolan as Chairman and Joe Green would replace John Farrell as Vice-Chairman. Also appointed by the Town Council were the positions of Deputy Town Clerk, which was awarded to Christie Campbell, and Tax Collector, Diane Mulholland.
The Council also went over the “Right to Know” laws in regards to how a public meeting should be conducted. Councilor Tom Dolan explained how he previously gathered Vice-Chairs from various boards and committees from Londonderry, where they were all informed of ways meetings should be conducted by the town attorney. However, even though these are called Right to Know “laws”, boards and committees cannot cut someone off if they do not like what they are saying in a public meeting. This would be considered an infringement on their First Amendment right to free speech.
Dolan explained that he hoped these rules would be considered aspirational and the Town Council would set the example for the community in how to behave in public meetings. The Council also encourages the public to be civil when they approach them for public comment.
According to Dolan, there are only two things the Councilman can do to shut down a meeting that has gotten out of control. If someone comes into the council chambers with a very nasty and opinionated comment, the Chairman can set a time limit for how long the individual is allowed to speak. Under First Amendment laws, they are not able to shut a person down due to the content of their speech but can limit how long they are allowed to speak for.
The second way the Council can keep a meeting moving is if the public has comments that are repetitive. At that point, the Chairman (or woman) has the authority to ask if anyone has anything new to add to the conversation. Although the Council wants these rules to aspirational, these two rules are expected to be followed when someone enters a public meeting with a comment to a board/committee (not just the Town Council). The aspirational portion of the rules are behaving, be courteous, be respectful of each other, and try to refrain from using vulgar language. Dolan also reminded the public to be mindful of viewers at home who may be underage watching the meetings, because they are on cable television-it is not regulated by the FCC.
The town attorney also put in a recommendation on voting for public meetings. At the Chairman’s discretion, he/she may decide to step down from voting unless there is a tie between board members. If the board agrees on an ordinance 4-0, there is no need for the Chairman to vote to make it 5-0. Now that John Farrell is the Chairman for the Town Council, it will be his decision on whether he chooses to vote or not. Former Chairman Tom Dolan also experimented with his stopwatch on how long public comment usually takes for each individual over the past few months. “I don’t think I had anybody ever go over five minutes, and most people were right around three minutes,” Dolan said.
Chairman John Farrell felt it was a good idea to have a set of informal rules for the public to follow but left it up to the Council if they wanted to vote on the rules or not. Councilor Jim Butler felt that the Council is doing fine without enacting the rules.
Dolan also mentioned how in the town of Derry, members of the public are given a “stoplight” system, where they have until the light turns red to make their pitch to the Council (green is good and yellow is time is running out). Members of Londonderry’s Town Council felt this was unnecessary in how their meetings are run, because no one has exceeded over five minutes.
Chairman John Farrell also made note how a few years back, he witnessed a member of Derry’s community receive a ticket for disorderly conduct, because they exceeded their allotted time in a Derry Town Council meeting.
Chairman John Farrell felt it was a good idea to have a set of informal rules for the public to follow but left it up to the Council if they wanted to vote on the rules or not. Councilor Jim Butler felt that the Council is doing fine without enacting the rules. Councilor Ted Combes felt it may be a good idea to have rules posted so the public knows how to conduct themselves when they are speaking in a town meeting. Vice-Chairman Joe Green also felt it was a good idea to enact a time limit to keep meetings moving along. The decision was ultimately made to instate these informal rules by discretion of the Chairman, but no formal vote was taken.