Recently, the Londonderry Town Council was given some advice Tom Dolan chair of Town Council, about the most effective ways to run their meetings. Chairman Tom Dolan said the council became more aware of issues they were not before. One example was keeping public comment to a certain amount of minutes due to a time limit and repetition. In this case, if someone were to speak about an issue for ten minutes and another resident speaks the same talking points, the Chairman at his/her discretion can ask if anyone else has anything new to add before letting the person speak. By using this rule, the council hopes to lead by example and that other commissions and boards will think about invoking this rule as well.
Over the past few months, Dolan has been using a stop watch during public comment to keep residents on track due to a time limit (trying not to go past 10 p.m.), the time limit being set at three minutes per speaker. He has found that when doing public comment over the past few months, there has rarely been anyone who has gone over five minutes and typically the average has been three minutes per speaker. It is ultimately left up to the Chair to decide the time limit for the public, but it is also a duty of the Chairman to not let a single person dominate the meeting with their speaking points by going over ten or fifteen minutes. Dolan pointed out that this time limit is reserved for public comment, because they are bringing issues or concerns to the council that they are unaware of before their meeting and have no time to research beforehand. This rule can also be used in a public hearing when multiple members of the public have a comment or presentation to share.
The time limit rules do not apply, however to people the council has invited to the meeting to give a presentation like the Fire Chief or Chief of Police, because they are aware of what they will be speaking about and therefore are able to put it in the agenda.
Dolan also expressed the idea of having the Chairman exempt themselves from a vote. In a typical five person council, there are an odd number of people and the Chair is focused on running the meeting. The Chair should only be voting to break a tie between council members. If the vote is 2-2, then the Chair would step in and break the tie, but if the vote was 4-0, there would be no need for another vote to make it 5-0. Even though Dolan will not be the next Chair of the Londonderry Town Council in the next few months, he agreed that he would abide by this rule, but it will be up to the next Chair if he or she will use it.
The Town Council also does not allow campaigning during public comment for public office or the promotion of a local business unless they are invited by the council first. The council also cannot shut a person down if they use vulgar or profane language, because that is a first amendment violation. Although the council can ask for the public to be polite during their comments, they cannot edit the actual words that are spoken.
The Town Council’s attorney advised these rules to be accepted for how town meetings are run called “Right to know.” One member of the council felt that more time was needed to look over the rules before accepting them. The decision on whether or not to accept them will be made by the Town Council at their next meeting scheduled for Monday, March 5.