The Alna Board of Selectmen, on Wednesday, Aug. 12, declined a request from residents to change the rules for public comment in order to allow more informed participation.
The selectmen currently allow public comment at the beginning of each meeting. The residents said it is difficult to comment on agenda items before the selectmen discuss them, as descriptions of the items can be vague.
Maria Jenness said that in the past, the procedure was to allow public comment at both the beginning and end of each meeting. She encouraged the selectmen to return to that format.
Ed Pentaleri suggested that the selectmen allow public comment after each agenda item.
“I think you guys are really missing important value from the public comment if you’re not listening to public comment after you introduce each agenda item,” said Pentaleri, a former second selectman.
“You don’t allow public comment after you’ve introduced the item and fleshed out exactly what it is you’re talking about. You’re kind of flying blind without the value of input from the public,” Pentaleri said.
Second Selectman Doug Baston described Alna’s policy on public comment as more lenient than those in nearby towns. Baston said Damariscotta and Newcastle only accept written public comments.
The Damariscotta Board of Selectmen accepts public comments in the middle of each meeting. The Newcastle Board of Selectmen asks the public to email comments to the town manager prior to a meeting.
“This is our meeting to conduct the business of the town,” Baston said. He said he has spoken with other residents who agree that the selectmen need to constrain public comment.
“This is our business to conduct. You can comment at the beginning, you can comment after the fact about what you thought of it, but it’s not a participatory democracy where you get to discuss each agenda item,” Baston said.
Third Selectman Greg Shute said that if people have questions about agenda items, they should call the selectmen for clarification.
Planning board terms
The planning board’s new bylaws ask the selectmen to reset members’ terms, Baston said.
“We are going to ask all current members two questions: ‘Do you want to be reappointed?’ and ‘What term do you want to be considered for?’” Baston said.
Planning board members have staggered terms, so the selectmen will appoint members for two-, three-, four-, or five-year terms. Baston said they will do so either by drawing straws or asking for members’ preferences.
If there are vacancies on the board after this process, the selectmen will encourage residents to apply.
“We want to make sure the board is filled with folks who have some sort of contribution,” Shute said, citing familiarity with construction and resource protection issues as relevant skills.
“We also want to have people who are collaborative in nature and willing to discuss hard issues, agree and disagree, and then vote on moving things forward,” Shute said.
Head Tide Dam update
The selectmen still plan to have work done to combat erosion at the new stairs and retaining wall at the Head Tide Dam, but are waiting until peak swimming season is over, according to Shute. The work will be done in September. The town will work with the Atlantic Salmon Federation on the project.
There will also be a fence erected at the dam, which the selectmen will present to the planning board at an upcoming meeting.