North Adams Council Rules Limit Public SpeakingBy Tammy Daniels
09:53PM / Tuesday, January 10, 2012
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council approved 8-1 new rules of order despite protests from two of the city's most vocal residents.
Robert Cardimino argued that the council's new rules would severely limit citizen participation.
Frequent council critic Robert Cardimino described the move as "nothing but censorship."
"I know you're going to tell me this is the way it's done in other cities — Pittsfield, Greenfield — to try to justify the implementation of this rule," he said. "So why not lead and have other cities look to North Adams by not adopting this rule and show some leadership."
The new rules submitted by Council President Michael Bloom would limit public input to three minutes during a new "hearing of visitors" at the beginning of the meeting and two minutes during open forum at the end. Statements during the hearing of visitors will be confined to matters on the agenda and the public would be allowed to speak on matters during council debate only at the president's discretion.
The first business of the newly formed council passed on a roll call vote with Councilor John Barrett III voting nay.
Barrett urged his fellow councilors to delay implementation for a few months and motioned to table the matter for two weeks but it died without second.
"Yeah, it'll be nice if we can keep people quiet and we don't have to listen to them, and we don't have to be badgered and all that ... but you know what, we put our name on the ballot and subject ourselves to criticism," he said, calling for the audience to have at least two minutes for statement during council debate.
His colleagues, most of whom have indicated frustration with repeated attacks and inappropriate behavior during meetings over the past two years, rejected his pleas.
"I would like to see how this will change the tenor of the meetings," said Councilor Keith Bona, saying there are opportunities for citizens to speak out, as well as to participate during committee meetings. "I think this gives a little more control to our meetings."
Resident Mark Trottier, who has spoken out a number of times on free speech issues before the council, said rather than limit citizens, the president should use the gavel to control meetings.
"This is nothing more than silencing the people," said Trottier, who objected to taxpayers and citizens being described as "visitors" at council meeting. He also disagreed with the findings by City Solicitor John DeRosa that upheld the rules; Councilor Jennifer Breen Kirsch, an attorney, said she agreed with DeRosa's opinion and that they were based on recent case law.
Both Trottier and Cardimino said the public didn't have access to the information in the councilors' meeting packets so would be severely hampered if their comments on items before the council were limited to the beginning of the meetings.
"Having to speak before the meeting only stifles the flow of information," said Cardimino, who admitted to some acrimony on both sides. "How can any citizen anticipate what kind of information is going to be presented?"
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said her research had found a number of cities that applied similar rules but agreed citizens needed better access to documentation.
"I'd like to be able to support our new president," said Councilor Alan Marden, who admitted to being conflicted. "If we do approve them as presented, it's incumbent on this council and the city clerk that we provide the information requested by the public."
North Adams Rules of Order 2012