Public comment to come first at selectmen meetings

The public has spoken, and the Board of Selectmen has heard.

Public comment, usually reserved for the end of Board of Selectmen meetings at town hall, is being moved to the top of the agenda. There will be a second public comment opportunity at the end of the meeting.

The new way of doing it was introduced Sept. 19 at a Board of Selectmen meeting when First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice asked for an amendment to the agenda to add public comment as the second item of business.

“We’re going to be doing it going forward,” said Vanderslice, who said it would have started sooner but the public comment was inadvertently not made item B on the agenda that night.

The selectmen tried out the new format several months ago and found a number of people asked for it to be done that way all the time.

“It makes sense because people may want to discuss an item that comes up on the agenda, and by the time of public comment maybe we already took action,” Vanderslice said.

It is up to each board or commission to determine at what point in its meeting public comment takes place.

Critics of public meetings say putting public comment at the end of a long agenda discourages those who work from attending meetings and voicing their opinions.

Proponents of early public comment say it encourages more people to attend meetings, which usually begin  7:30 p.m., because they can speak their mind and then go home.

There were no takers for the call for public comment on Spet. 19, however. Public attendance at Board of Selectmen meetings varies depending on agenda items.