RICHMOND TOWN COUNCIL MEETING – SEPTEMBER 7th
Council Mulls Changes to Public Forum
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND — With two members absent from the Sept. 7 Town Council meeting, council President Nell Carpenter, Vice President James Palmisciano and member Richard Nassaney agreed to wait until the next meeting on Sept. 21 to review proposed amendments to the Town Council Rules and Procedures pertaining to the public forum.
Proposed by Carpenter, the first amendment would prohibit officials serving on town bodies from responding to comments made by members of the public. Carpenter also proposed a second amendment, updating the format of council agendas to include communications received by the council.
“What this was was…what we’re already doing now and what the suggestions are from the Attorney General’s office in regards to public forum and the communications that we’ve seen now, for the last two meetings in a row, we’ve seen these on the agenda,” she said.
Palmisciano made a motion to approve both updates, but Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth suggested waiting until the proposed amendments are in writing.
“I think what you need is a written copy of a draft amendment front of you to vote on so that you’re approving precise language and exactly where it goes,” she said.
Ellsworth also noted that there is already a provision in the rules regarding public forum.
“It says Town Council members may respond to public comments or may discuss a matter raised by a member of the public if that matter is not on the agenda,” she said. “The Town Council may not vote on a matter except to refer the matter to another body or official or when a vote is necessary to address an unanticipated situation that requires immediate action to protect public health safety and welfare…My advice would be that this language does not accurately reflect either the statute that you’re citing or the Attorney General’s opinions on speaking during a public forum, but that’s of course up to you.”
Palmisciano withdrew his motion.
Ellsworth said she believed the Attorney General’s office was more concerned with council members starting new discussions during public forum “under the guise of responding to a comment by the public.”
Further, Ellsworth noted the statute states that “Town Council members can respond to comments made by members of the public. It doesn’t say that Town Council members can respond to comments made by other Town Council members. So, I think that the problem with the language that you suggested is the word ‘discussion,’ because I don’t know exactly what that means.
“This is the verbiage that we’ve been using for the last five months, four months, and it works, because it protects the best interests of the town in not engaging in communication - I’m sorry, discussion - that begins in public forum. That is something that is not on the agenda…It’s inconsistent. We either walk up to the line or we avoid the line with a statement such as this and we don’t participate in communication.”
Ellsworth proposed wording that would affirm councilors’ right to respond to a member of the public during the forum, whether or not the subject of the comment is on the agenda, but council members would be prohibited from initiating a discussion of the matter or voting on it, except to refer the matter to another board or commission or in a case where immediate action is necessary.
Carpenter said she supported the amendment as originally proposed, in order to avoid possible violations of the Open Meetings Act.
Palmisciano said he wanted to see Ellsworth’s version in writing.
“I would like the opportunity to see in writing what the solicitor said to compare, because right now, I think it sounds like there could be a compromise of the two and making sure it addresses the needs…Is there a way that we could have a opportunity to review that and find that middle ground that works best and go forward from there?” He said.
Palmisciano made a motion, approved by Carpenter and Nassaney, to continue the public forum item to the next council meeting and Ellsworth suggested that the communications item also be continued.
In other business, Carpenter asked the council to consider the possible establishment of a Wellness Committee which would include members of the public. The town is expecting to receive a total of $2.3 million in federal “American Rescue Plan” pandemic recovery - related funds.
“This would also be a means in which we could gather data and precise information as how the COVID pandemic has affected our community specifically, mentally, physically, emotionally in all areas is the scope and the purpose of this committee,” she said. “What I would like council to consider is to have specific individuals in mind who will represent this committee. They don’t have to be residents of Richmond. We can decide that, as long as they’re stakeholders, but individuals who would be able to gather that information, to supply council with concrete data on, as I said, in regards to the effects that the pandemic has had on our community, and the ultimate goal and the ultimate hope is to use these funds for a wellness facility.”
Finance Director Laura Kenyon explained that the terms of the funding require the town to commit the grant money by 2023.
“We have until, basically, 2023, to commit it, where we’re going to spend it,” she said.
The council asked Ellsworth to draft a resolution describing the parameters of the new committee, including the terms of membership, which members will discuss at the next meeting.
Cynthia Drummond email@example.com
THE NEXT RICHMOND TOWN COUNCIL MEETING IS TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 21st at 6:00pm
FOR MORE ON NELL CARPENTER’S PROPOSED REVISIONS
AND to VIEW the FULL September 21st Town Council Meeting LIVE TOMORROW at 6pm via ZOOM – please see the link below:
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