Adams Officials Call for More Civil Public Discourse By Dan Gigliotti
05:24PM / Thursday, November 21, 2013
ADAMS, Mass. — Town Administrator Jonathan Butler challenged the public to hold itself to a higher standard in matters of politics during a Board of Selectmen meeting on Wednesday at Town Hall.
Butler said the town must address a trend of ill behavior at public meetings, unbecoming of a well-functioning local government, based on personal observation from the last five or six months and discussions with distraught town officials and residents.
"In a town our size, we have no advantage if we don't work together. And I think we need to work better together," Butler said.
He emphasized professionalism, community, business and family as qualities that should frame public meetings, while pointing out the importance of sticking to agenda items throughout and staying on topic. He said the town risks alienating prospective business and homeowners, as well as its neighbors if it continues a pattern of malicious behavior at meetings.
"I'm not frustrated, but I'm a little bit surprised at what's happening. We play by the rules here. There isn't anything that happens behind closed doors," Butler said, referring to claims that town officials have not been forthright recently with public matters.
Butler continued, "Politics can be challenging. You disagree in democracy. It’s OK to disagree. But then you move on. If you're not on the side that wins, you still have to be neighbors with the person who lives next door to you."
Selectmen Joseph Nowak and Arthur "Skip" Harrington reiterated his thoughts, saying behavior at public meetings has been ugly, improper and inexcusable. Chairman John Duval said that anyone who has an issue with a town official should speak with the town administrator. Selectmen offered apologies to Town Counsel Edmnund St. John III for offensive comments made publicly toward him during a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Nov. 12.
iBerkshires reported that members of the public at last week’s ZBA meeting became unruly, calling for St. John to give an immediate ruling at a time of the board's indecision. "He's paid 50 grand a year to get this stuff right," said Edward Driscoll, a former selectman.
At the onset of Tuesday’s ZBA meeting, Chairman Michael Mach referred to the prior meeting as "a little ugly," warning that anyone acting out of order would be physically removed. St. John prefaced legal remarks by saying the personal attacks levied on town employees were "appalling and disgraceful."
"There is no place in the democratic surroundings of government for the type of hateful and uncivilized behavior that I witnessed [last Tuesday] and I hope never to see it again," St. John said.
On Nov. 13, during a Board of Selectmen workshop, Butler said a number of town officials who called his office on Wednesday were offended by the adversarial approach taken by residents in airing concerns over the ruling about a solar array made at the ZBA meeting.
"The people who fight the project have every right to fight the project," Butler said. "But don't make it personal."