DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

Opinion

January 17, 2013

Editorial: Text messaging has little place in town government

The purpose and intent of public meetings is to have elected officials face the public and hash out their plans and proposals in full view of those they will affect.

That purpose is not well served when officials seek to participate in meetings they cannot be bothered to attend.

That happened in Londonderry recently when the Town Council allowed a member of the Planning Board to send her comments via text messages to the chairman during a meeting. Those comments from Planning Board Vice Chairman Mary Wing-Soares were entered into the public record and minutes of the Dec. 17 meeting.

That rightly upset Aspen Road resident Dana Coons, who wrote a letter to the council objecting to the practice. We would hope that other Londonderry residents would find this upsetting as well.

Coons said the texting was a public “interruption” of the meeting and was inappropriate because other residents showed up in person to voice concerns, but Soares was able to stay home and text.

“Others in town have preferential treatment,” Coons wrote. “You owe the citizens of Londonderry an apology.”

Council Chairman John Farrell said that, while the texts were unusual, they were not illegal and were entered into the public record.

“We do want people to participate,” Farrell said, “in any way shape or form. This council wants full transparency and we’ll take it however we can get it.”

Farrell doesn’t get it. Public meetings are not held for the convenience of elected officials and board members. They are required so that the public may witness and participate in the operation of their government.

Allowing a public official to avoid attending a meeting and to communicate via text message does not contribute to transparency. It is the opposite of transparency.

Farrell apologized if he had offended anybody. Giving offense isn’t the issue. Good government is.

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