Planning Board Debates How to Handle Letters

The Planning Board mulled what to do with letters from the public, and board chairman Arthur Rugg noted they would be considered public documents.
“I think it could raise some Constitutional issues,” Rugg said. “If they want to discuss something (via correspondence) in a public hearing, they’re allowed to within proper decorum and pertaining to the subject matter at hand. If they’re off the subject matter, that’s entirely different. I think the Woodmont (Commons) issue was rather contentious and I read a lot into the record that dealt specifically with the public hearing on Woodmont and they wanted it addressed at that time.”
Rugg said that other than with Woodmont, the board has not had any problems other than a letter or two.

He said letters from the public go into a “read file” that is part of the public documents.
Board member Mary Wing Soares said she didn’t realize the read file was public and Rugg said that it has always been so.
“Generally I think for us to say that we’ve received these letters and emails from various people and that they are available in the read file is sufficient enough,” Soares said.
“If someone wants something addressed publicly, then they can bring it up during public discussion,” Rugg said.
Board member Maria Newman asked if they were going to continue to read emails and letters into the public record at the meetings.
“If it is specifically about what the public hearing is about, then yes,” Rugg said.
“We never want to stop public input, but I think that the only thing that gets a little shaky is when somebody says things that have malice or not in an appropriate way,” Newman said. “By reading a letter in its entirety, there’s no stopping that, as when somebody is sitting here in this chamber and testifying, there is some order as to what’s allowed.”
“If they get out of line when speaking here, then I as chairman can disallow it, even something that’s written,” Rugg said.
Rugg said that basically people cannot disparage others or engage in name calling, “that kind of stuff.”
“You see it in town meetings and district meetings, it happens people get to rambling and they get off point and you have to get them back on point,” Rugg said.
Newman said she didn’t think it was appropriate to read a letter in its entirety, even if the writer requests it, if it contains inappropriate comments. Rugg agreed.
Board member Tom Freda said he had no problem attaching the letters to the minutes of the meetings.
Soares said that there should be a reference that letters are attached to the minutes and that they are in the read file and available for public “consumption.”
Freda said that if they were part of the minutes, they would be on the town website as well. But he said even if the letters are read, comments by people who take the time to attend a meeting should have preference. Rugg also noted that when comments are made at the meeting, a dialogue can follow, something not available with letters.
Although no vote was required, the consensus of the board at its Oct. 2 meeting was to accept mail and put it in the read file, attached to the meeting minutes. Newman said the rules did not say they had to read every letter aloud.

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