DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

April 4, 2013

Derry Town Council may tweak meeting rules

By Julie Huss
jhuss@derrynews.com

---- — DERRY — Some residents don’t like the way they are treated when they appear before the Town Council.

Just ask newly elected Councilor Al Dimmock.

Before he was elected last month, Dimmock was a frequent visitor to Town Council meetings and a regular speaker at those meetings.

He, too, objects to the length of time speakers are given and the lack of an immediate response from the board.

Residents have been making some noise about changes they would like to see.

As it stands, residents are limited to three minutes apiece during the public forum portion of meetings. When questions are raised, councilors don’t give an immediate answer. rather, they accept the question and investigate before making a response.

Dimmock and some others would like to change that.

“People ask a question and we should answer,” Dimmock said. “I’m all for that. I”m not saying we have to answer it immediately, but don’t tell them we don’t answer questions.”

Town Councilor Brad Benson said councilors usually don’t engage in conversation with those speaking during the public forum. A question is asked, the councilors try to get an answer by the next meeting.

With three new councilors on board, Dimock said it’s time to give the public a chance to interact and have their voices heard.

“This is one thing we should do as a council,” he said. “Be more friendly to the people who come up to the podium. And I don’t think three minutes is enough.”

Councilors will discuss the issue further.

“We should look at the public forum to see if we should make a change,” Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks said.

Town Councilor Mark Osborne, another brand-new member, said some tweaks in the public portion of the meetings could help the group seem a bit more approachable.

“The public forum could be a little more broad, more ‘give and take’ time between the public and council,” he said. “I’m willing to sit down and figure out how to do that. (It might) seem more open and welcoming to those who want to come out and talk to us.”

Benson stressed council meetings are business meetings and they are not geared toward lengthy public presentations.

Sometimes the formula doesn’t work.

“We’ve tried to come back with answers,” Benson said. “And often it’s turned into arguments and not productive.”

Town Councilor Neil Wetherbee said the group needs time to find answers to the public’s questions and must be careful not to give information about a subject without the proper research.

“We answer some questions a little hastily,” he said. “That’s why we developed the practice of making sure our answers are solid.”