Planning Board Decides Against Reading Letters in Public

There will be no public readings of emails and letters received by the planning board.
In a conversation between board member Maria Newman and Chairman Arthur Rugg during the last Planning Board meeting, Rugg told Newman that emails and letters that were pertinent to a public hearing on the agenda would be read into the record at the time of the hearing. However, in an exchange shortly thereafter, board member Tom Freda, who is liaison from the Town Council, suggested that emails and letters be attached to the minutes of the meeting instead.

“Everyone is just going to mail it in,” Freda said.
“That’s my concern. With everything that’s coming up, there’ll be a lot more of these emails, a lot more of these letters, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but we have these hearings for a reason,” Newman said.
Freda said he didn’t mind attaching the documents to the minutes but said the board should not be used as a soapbox. Freda added that even if the letters are read, people who take the time to attend the meeting should be given preference.
Board member Mary Wing Soares said there should be a reference that the correspondence has been attached to the minutes and that they are in the read file and available for public “consumption.”
Newman agreed with Freda that there could be an onslaught of letters.
Rugg noted that when people speak at a meeting, there can be dialogue, whereas a letter does not offer that opportunity.
“At first I agreed that the correspondence about public hearings should still be read into the record during the public hearing and told Maria that the letters would still be read aloud, but after Tom (Freda) made his remarks, I changed my mind and agreed that they (the letters and emails) should be attached to the minutes and put in the read file,” Rugg said.
No vote or consensus was taken.
Newman said that when an email or letter is pertinent to a public hearing or an agenda item, the receipt of the letter will be noted and it will be noted that it will be attached to the minutes.
“I just don’t think that we have an obligation to read letters in their entirety into the record,” Freda said. “If people want their views heard, then they should come to the meeting. If someone can’t come for one reason or another, that’s one thing, but the way I understand it now is that if a letter comes in, it is put into the ‘read file’ and we read it. When an email comes to the board, Art (Rugg) forwards it to us and we all can read it.”
Freda said that by attaching the correspondence to the minutes, the letters would be available as part of the minutes on the town website and can be viewed by the public.
He said that he was not sure the board is required to read letters for them to be considered as testimony. In his view, attaching the letters to the minutes makes them part of the record, and as long as the public is aware that letters are attached to the minutes and available online, they would still be considered testimony.
When questioned after the meeting, Rugg said he thinks posting the letters to the minutes meets the Planning Board rules and procedures that specify people can testify in writing.
Town Council Chairman John Farrell said the Town Council has not discussed the issue of correspondence being read aloud at its meetings and acknowledged there have been times when letters and emails have been read into the record at Council meetings.
Asked about why letters are read at Council meetings, Freda said, “I haven’t brought it up at the Town Council because we haven’t gotten the volume of letters that the Planning Board gets, especially with Woodmont.”

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