Editorials


It Is the Board or Committee’s Meeting, Not the Public's
 By Cheryl Killam   4-11-18

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a meeting of the board of selectmen, school board, planning board, conservation commission, zoning board of adjustment, budget committee, ethics committee or any other board or committee meeting in New Hampshire towns, each of those boards and committees meet to address the business on their agenda on behalf of the town or school.

The three most visible boards in Raymond, board of selectmen, planning board and school board, are all elected seats, filled by volunteers.

The selectmen manage the prudential affairs of the town and perform the duties by law prescribed to them via RSA Chapter 41:8, the planning board is a local land use board controlled by RSA Chapter 673, while the school board is controlled by NHDOE Rule Ed 303.

Each board or committee has the right to run their meeting the way they chose to get the work done. They decide when to start, they decide what order they will address the agenda items, and they decide when to end the meeting. It is their choice to allow or not allow public comment.

According to Knowing the Territory, a Survey of Municipal Law for New Hampshire Local Officials, “All public meetings are “open to the public” which means anyone can attend. However, “open to the public” does not mean that the Right to Know Law grants anyone the right to speak at the meeting. Nobody has the right to disrupt a meeting or to speak without being invited. The chair is in control of who speaks and when. RSA Chapter 91-A only assures a right to attend, not a right to participate.

“Clearly, public participation must be allowed at meetings that are public hearings. In certain circumstances, certain parties may have a legal right to speak. There may be other reasons to allow public input at specifically designated portions of the meeting.”

There is a constitutional due process right to be heard on regulations that may affect citizen’s property rights, and there is the political wisdom of being sure that voters’ concerns are heard and addressed, both are strong reasons to set aside a “public comment” period.

However the public needs to understand that they do not have “the right” to speak unless the chairman recognizes them and gives them the privilege to speak.

The public needs to remember that the people sitting on these boards and committees are fellow taxpayers and neighbors who have volunteered their time to help with town or school business and they need to remember that the board's are not legally required to provide a public comment period nor does the board need to respond during the public comment period. They also need to remember how to be respectful and that it is the board's meeting.

For more information about municipal laws, read “Knowing the Territory, a Survey of Municipal Law for New Hampshire Local Officials ” from the New Hampshire Local Government Center.

You can order your own copy from https://www.nhmunicipal.org/shop/index.php/product/knowing-the-territory-a-survey-of-municipal-law-for-nh-local-officials-2017-digital-download .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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