It may come as a surprise, but the state’s Freedom of Information Act does not require a public comment period at a public meeting. According to the statute, the public does not have a right to be heard.
That does not seem right, and even though it is not required, Wilton’s boards, commissions and committees should offer the public an opportunity to speak. All do, just not all in the same way, and some ways may not be so obvious.
The public comment period is not to be confused with a public hearing. Interested parties — which can be anyone — have the right to speak out about the subject of such a hearing. But people should also have an opportunity to comment on other matters before a public body.
To their credit, some of Wilton’s public agencies — the Board of Selectmen, Board of Education, Miller-Driscoll Building Committee — offer public comments at the beginning and end of their meetings. But other agencies don’t offer an actual public comment period and they should. They might not do so because there may be few, if any, members of the public who attend their meetings. That was First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice’s thought on the matter.
“If a non-regulatory board or commission is asked by a member of the public to add comment to their agenda, to my knowledge they do so,” she told The Bulletin. “I’ve seen it happen since becoming first selectman.
“People volunteer to be on a board or commission because they are interested in the subject matter. They tend to be pleased to hear from the public, whether positive or negative, as it demonstrates the public is also interested in the work of the board or commission.”
That’s good advice. Anyone attending such a meeting who wishes to speak out should ask for public comment to be added to the agenda. Public comment may be limited — in terms of how long people speak — but it should be encouraged.
Given we have two important public hearings related to the budget coming up, what better time to exercise that opportunity?