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Public input session designated at future BCOM meetings

June 03, 2009
GILFORD — To better facilitate public input at their meetings, the Gilford Budget Committee will designate a time for residents to speak their minds during the next budget cycle.

In the committee's organizational meeting last week, Chair Dick Hickok asked committee members to suggest any potential improvements for the next budget year. Committee member Doug Lambert suggested that the committee consider how they conduct opportunities for the public to speak at their regular meetings.

"When we tell people to show up, we ask where they were before the decision was made," said committee member Kevin Roy, who said he gave this response to those unhappy with decisions made by the committee.

The board considered whether they should add a formal public input session to their meetings in the next budget year. Though many agreed on the opportunity, the decision of where to put the session generated debate.

Hickok said that he felt that input should be a part of meetings, but that it should not happen during "crucial discussion." He suggested instead that a time for public input be made before the committee gets into crucial discussion. Though many issues in the past took two meetings to decide, allowing news of the issue to circulate before a vote, Hickok remembered, the most recent budget meetings had been discussed and voted upon in one meeting.

Gilford School Board representative Margo Weeks said that the board had just reconsidered its public input portion at their own meetings. The school board placed a public input session at the middle of the meeting, after reports, but before involved discussion. She cautioned against more informal public input and said that the final decision rests with the committee members.

"It is the group making the decisions," said Weeks. "It's important not to come to a consensus with everybody who happens to show up. If the meeting does, it dissolves into a free-flying discussion on issues."

Selectman Representative John O'Brien asked about holding a public input session at the end of a meeting, with the possibility of a revote on the issue. Weeks asked "what's the point of that?' O'Brien said that if a valid point could be made in public input, a revote could be considered. Gilford resident Mark Corry said he liked the idea of public being able to comment after discussion, but before the vote. Waiting until after the vote, he said, could make residents feel "slighted."

"I sat in the audience for 10 years with complaints," said Lambert. "I never felt that I didn't have the chance."

Committee member Skip Murphy said the issue came up in the last budget cycle during discussion about the school. Hickok said that during that meeting, there were several people at the meeting who he thought were teachers.

The committee questioned whether they should have a designated spot in the agenda for public information. Weeks, noting that "the meeting is held in public, not with the public," outlined the school board's new criteria for public input. She suggested that the committee restrict input to three minutes, and only allow someone to speak a second time after everyone else in the public had a chance to speak.

"In general, I don't think we'll have problem with too many people," noted Hickok.

The committee moved unanimously to designate a public input session after the committee had finished its discussion, but before they voted, with time restrictions in place.

The committee also divvyed themselves into subcommittees for the next year, and elected a chair and co-chair. Hickok was voted back in unanimously, while Murphy was voted in as vice-chair in a vote of 8-2, with committee members Dale Dormody and Weeks dissenting.

"Nothing personal," said Dormody to Murphy.

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