, Derry, New Hampshire


July 25, 2013

Derry councilors spar over public forum policy

DERRY — A Town Council meeting ended abruptly after several councilors got fired up over public forum rules and two members left before adjournment.

At the end of the meeting July 9, councilors had the opportunity to speak on any issue that did not involve any previous agenda item.

A discussion on how the public speaks at meetings got some councilors hot under the collar — enough that Councilors Brad Benson and Neil Wetherbee walked out before an official adjournment vote was taken.

Councilor Mark Osborne began the dialogue by saying he thought the public portion of the meeting was important and that councilors should make a point to try to answer any questions while the person speaking was still at the podium.

“Sometimes, we also have to sit here and take our lumps, but as elected officials, that’s what we do,” Osborne said. “That’s what we were elected to do.”

Right now, there is a three-minute rule for those who wish to speak during the public forum, but often more time is allowed.

People have a right to speak on any issue except those that are listed on the agenda during that night’s meeting.

Osborne, also a lawyer, said he never wanted the town to get into trouble by squashing anyone’s constitutional right to speak openly or by making comments about anyone who speaks.

“When we say things about a citizen, in doing that, we do that at our peril,” he said. “We shouldn’t be surprised when people come up and defend themselves and state facts as they see it.”

Councilor Al Dimmock, newly elected in March and for years a regular face at council meetings, said he believed council meetings were public and people should have the right to speak their minds and get answers.

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