Stoneham Select Board Mull Changes in Public Comment
Jan 23, 2019 10:05PM
● By Lisa Redmond
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STONEHAM – The Board of Selectmen is considering changes to the public comment portion of their meetings after two Stoneham residents aired allegations of illegal activities by town employees and accused a selectman of abuse of power during the televised public comment portion of a selectmen’s meeting.
At the Jan. 8 board meeting, Selectboard Chairman Shelly MacNeill noted that the allegations made at the beginning of the Dec. 18, 2018 meeting, during public comment, set a “negative tone’’ for the remainder of the meeting.
The standard public comment portion on the selectmen’s agenda is considered important to allow people to raise concerns on any topic. But selectmen can be blindsided because comments can be aired – often in front of a public access cable audience - without the selectmen being informed of the topics beforehand.
Public comment as an agenda item is not required by state law, however, MacNeill said she wants to keep it on the agenda because it gives people a voice. She suggested the board place public comment lower on the agenda, “so people don’t have to sit through contentious neighbor disputes.’’
But MacNeill’s support of public comment comes with a warning.
“I feel that public comment is important,’’ MacNeill said. “But when you come in to a selectmen’s meeting and make accusations these things have ramifications.’’
She added, “I don’t like people dropping bombs and then leaving.’’
At the Dec. 18 meeting Patrick Boyle, of 30 Windsor Road, took to the podium during public comment to air his longstanding dispute he has with his neighbor about a fence.
Boyle complained that a town employee had allegedly falsely certified an official document and another town employee allegedly tried to steal town land.
“I simply want the fence fixed and to have town employees abide by the law,’’ Boyle told the selectmen.
MacNeill responded, “These are serious allegations against town employees in a public forum.’’ She said complaints against town employees should follow a chain of command that includes the town administrator.
In a separate case, William Dunn, of 11 Kays Road, was the next speaker during public comment. Dunn accused an unnamed selectman, who is his neighbor, of abusing his power by ordering the police to issue Dunn tickets for parking his vehicles on the sidewalk.
Selectman George Seibold, who lives in Dunn’s neighborhood, responded by saying, “We (public officials) are targets, but when there are blatant lies… I draw the line.’’
MacNeill told Dunn, “No select board member, I don’t care who it is, is allowed to order the police to do anything…If the police ticketed you, they had due cause.’’
MacNeill chastised Dunn saying, “This is not what public comment is meant for. This is a personal issue. Deal with it the appropriate way, go through the proper channels.’’
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