By Chadwick Dolgos
Stowe commissioners are considering enforcing rules regarding citizen comment during monthly meetings after a number of public comments resulted in outbursts by both members of the public and of the board during the past year.
“The last few months have been getting out of control,” said commissioner Dave Rugh during the board’s Oct. 12 voting meeting.
“For us to go in the right direction and be more civilized, I think we have to do what we have to do.”
In July, Stowe resident Christopher Allen attended a voting meeting to bring a domestic violence dispute to the board’s attention.
A back-and-forth between Allen and President Robin Parrilla ensued upon Allen’s use of foul language to illustrate the events he witnessed. The outburst ceased after Parrilla threatened to call the cops. During the board’s September regular meeting, resident John Tacey complained he still has not received a deed to a property that he tore down by hand and accused commissioner Cheryl McDermott of lying to him about the process of receiving the deed.
McDermott was accompanied to the meeting by her attorney William Rodgers III, who cut Tacey off during his presentation, which sparked debate between members of the audience.
Before the start of the board’s October meeting, residents in attendance were informed by Vice President Darrell Chestnutt, who was overseeing the meeting in Parrilla’s absence, that the board would not be hearing citizen comments that night because Tuesday night meetings are for voting. The decision was immediately reversed after citizens voiced their dissent off the record.
“They said it wasn’t fair, and that we should let them speak because we didn’t give them any notification, '' Chestnutt said. “So, I said, OK, we’ll let you speak.”
According to commissioner Kelly Cropper-Hall, the rules on the books surrounding public comments limit speakers to three minutes, require a letter submitted in advance by each speaker, and only permit public comments during the Monday night agenda meetings.
Stowe resident Amy Urbano, who previously sat on the board between 2003 and 2009, challenged the board’s decision to enforce these rules during citizen comments, noting that people in attendance were not informed of the reinstatement of the rules and some were only there so they could address the board.
“If things are going to change, and we’re going back to that, I think people need to know,” Urbano said during the meeting.
There was no discussion or announcement made regarding the rules during the agenda meeting the night before.
Cropper-Hall, who has been on the board for almost nine years, said the rules may have been enforced during her first year, but have not been in effect since.
“I don’t agree with [them].” Cropper-Hall said. “When I ran, the president of the board at the time wouldn’t let anyone speak.”
Cropper-Hall also explained that allowing public comments during both monthly meetings grants more residents the opportunity to address the board.
“Some people work Monday nights and can’t come, so they come on Tuesdays,” she said.
Members of the board said they want to hear the public speak, but want comments to remain civilized so the board can adequately address the issues being presented.
“We want to hear your comments, but things have been getting out of control,” Chestnutt said. “We don’t want to have to cut you off or kick you out of the room, but there are rules to these meetings.”
Another issue raised by Urbano is that the Monday agenda meetings are not recorded in the minutes posted on the township’s website. While both meetings are audio recorded, the township only keeps minutes for the board’s Tuesday night regular meetings.
“The minutes are your proof that you spoke, '' Urbano said in a separate interview with Gazette 2.0. “They could be used for legal purposes in the case that something happens.”
Some residents are intentionally reserving their comments for the Tuesday night meetings so their concerns will be recorded in the minutes.
“If someone looks at the minutes, [comments made on Monday night] didn’t happen,” Urbano said.
Cropper-Hall agrees with Urbano that this is a problem, and hopes that both meetings will start being recorded in the future.
The rules regarding citizen comments were not officially reinstated at the meeting, but it is being considered if things continue at the same pace.
“Moving forward, if it gets out of control, we’re going to have to revert back to the rules,” Chestnutt said.