Our Opinion: New meeting laws wrong for Stockbridge
After a fractious town election season, the town of Stockbridge could have used a respite. Unfortunately, the town didn't get one, as Wednesday's Select Board meeting picked up where the election campaign left off.
Newly elected Board Chairman Terry Flynn proposed shifting the traditional Monday night Select Board meetings to Thursday night and the occasional Wednesday sessions largely dedicated to reports from town departments to Thursday mornings at 7 a.m. once monthly (Eagle, June 13). He also advocated shifting public comments to the end of board meetings following votes on agenda items. Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo's objections to these changes led to heated discussions among board members and residents in attendance.
There is no logic in requiring residents to comment at the end of board meetings when the issues they bring up may have already been decided by the board. At Pittsfield City Council meetings and Select Board meetings across the county, residents are allowed to speak before meetings. In North Adams, residents can speak to agenda items before a City Council meeting and participate in an "open forum" after the agenda items are addressed. The only discernible reason to move comments entirely to the end of a meeting is to discourage public participation, which elected representatives shouldn't be in the business of doing.
Chairman Flynn asserted Wednesday that moving regular board meetings from Monday to Thursday would provide greater flexibility for the posting of agendas, which require 48 hours notice. This modest increase in flexibility doesn't justify moving meetings from a day of the week that taxpayers have been accustomed to in favor of a day when residents are beginning to look forward to the weekend. Conducting meetings at 7 a.m., which is before or around dawn through much of the Berkshire winter, would appear to be a good way to assure poor attendance by residents if that is the goal.
The third Select Board member, Roxanne McCaffrey, whose defeat of incumbent Donald Chabon opened up the chairmanship, campaigned on restoring dignity to the board. It is possible to conclude upon viewing the meeting that she was aware of Chairman Flynn's plans to change the rules before the meeting began. If true this could be a violation of open meetings laws, and would at least undermine efforts to assure transparency in town business and avoid the controversies that lead to the ugly disputes that have become to common in the conducting of town business.
The chairman's proposed changes were approved by a vote of 2-to-1, with Mr. Cardillo in opposition. Nonetheless, we urge Chairman Flynn to reconsider. Select Board meetings should be held on Mondays and residents should be allowed to speak before board meetings. There is no point in provoking further anger and contention in a town that needs less of both.
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