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Littleton Select Board approves grants, fundraising

Tempers flare over shift in public input policy

August 24, 2018
LITTLETON—At last week's Select Board meeting, the Littleton board approved several items with long-run importance, and then clashed with citizens over the rules of public input at weekly meetings.

The board voted to accept some $17,000 in a matching grant fund for a parking study, led and organized by planning nonprofit North Country Council (NCC), whose team will study the quantity and location of parking in Littleton's downtown. The grant was secured by NCC, and Littleton will contribute 10 percent. The parking study is expected to guide the next phases of Littleton's River District, walking accessibility, and road-and-sewer improvement projects.

According to project leader Alex Belensz, town hall and NCC will co-host a public forum on the plan sometime in the fall. The Littleton Parking Commission, which had new members and one resignation approved Monday, meets every other Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in the Littleton Community House, and is open to the public.

The Board unanimously voted to support Town Manager Dorsett's ongoing efforts to fundraise for a new public-private partnership program, which aims to support business development through statistical tools. Dorsett aims to raise as much as $50,000 for the next year, with as much as possible from private contributions.

The Board expressed support for Dorsett's initiative, and encouraged him to raise as much privately as he could, in advance of March's budget vote. Although the town has yet to wade into the budget process again, the time is not far distant when tax rates, valuations, and expenses will be close to mind again. The remainder of the project budget would likely have to be raised in taxes.

Select Board member Franco Rossi, in particular, praised Dorsett's project, and said, "I fully support this. Hopefully we can get it funded without tax dollars, but even with tax dollars, I think it will pay back with significant benefits."

The board also faced some pushback from citizens Rudi Gelsi and Ralph Hodgman, who criticized their new insistence on only taking public comment on agenda items. Discussion became temporarily heated, and was captured by Chad Fillion's Channel 2/Granite North TV.

The change in policy was implemented, "to stop the screaming matches," explained Chair Schuyler Sweet, who added further, "The public has the right to attend, but does not have the right to speak, period."

Select board member Franco Rossi added that unscheduled discussion had produced a great deal of unanswerable questions, and much wasted time. He encouraged all citizens with questions or feedback to contact town hall in advance to be added to the agenda.

The New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA) agrees with the Littleton Select Board's position, and holds that regular public meetings, distinct from public forums and listening or deliberative sessions, do not require that citizen input on any issue be entertained. For further information, curious citizens could consult the 2014 NH government pamphlet, Free Speech at Public Meetings, and the Frequently Asked Question list on the NHMA Web site.

Town Manager Andrew Dorsett encouraged citizens to contact him and his office at Town Hall, and observed that many issues, such as disruptions from road work, can be handled through him, his department heads, and the town's contractors.

"A lot of things can be taken care of before they come here," Dorsett said.

Martin Lord Osman
Tiffany Eddy
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