Edgartown selectmen hear plan to ease hearing rules
A proposal to consider changing meeting requirements for some of Edgartown's public boards drew strong reaction from some officials at a selectmen's meeting Monday.
The proposal, which is being drawn up by the planning board but could apply to any adjudicatory board that conducts public hearings, would allow a member to miss one public hearing out of a series on a single topic and still be allowed to participate in the board's decision on the matter. The member would have to a read the minutes of the missed hearing, review the file and listen to a transcript or watch a video of the proceedings in order to participate in the decision, Georgiana Greenough, assistant to the planning board, explained.
The planning board hopes to hold a public hearing on the proposal sometime in February when members of other boards that want to consider the rule change could attend, Ms. Greenough said. Each board may choose to adopt the rule or not. If all goes well at the hearing, the town will put the proposal on the warrant for the annual town meeting in April, she said.
Judging by the reaction to the proposal Monday, it may draw some opposition.
Laurence Mercier, a finance committee member, objected to the proposal, saying that without attending, a board member could not tell the tenor or emotions of a meeting.
Selectmen chairman Michael Donaroma also criticized the possible rule change. "It's not fair to the applicant," he said. "I think it's going to be a big issue and tough to explain."
In further explanation of the proposal after the meeting, Ms. Greenough said she believed the rule would benefit applicants, especially if a member missed a hearing toward the end of the hearing process, which has a time limit. "If the member can't be there, it gives an opportunity to go forward," she said. Otherwise, the process would have to be repeated from the beginning.
The current rules require that the same board members attend all hearings on an application or issue. Alternates are not allowed to step into the middle of a hearing if someone is absent.
Ms. Greenough also noted that the proposal is not a local idea. It is based on a law, the so-called Mullin Rule bill, passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Mitt Romney last May, which went into effect in August. The bill went through several changes before being adopted.
The law gives municipalities the option of adopting it as an ordinance or bylaw, and it also says they can apply additional requirements for attendance at scheduled board, committee, or commission hearings.
The state law says that before a vote on a hearing, the member who missed a meeting must certify in writing that he or she has examined all evidence received at the missed session, including an audio or video recording or a transcript.
"It's not like it's less work for the member," Ms. Greenough said. "We're just trying to finish before time runs out." She added that the rule could also be beneficial before an election when board members could change and time was running out on a hearing. It could also be especially helpful to boards that have only three members, such as the board of health, she said.
In other matters Monday, while reviewing the personnel board budget, the selectmen said they want to add a new staff position to the department, an information technology specialist. They directed Marilyn Wortman, personnel board assistant, to draw up a job description for the position.
The board also closed a scheduled public hearing on a liquor license violation by L'Etoile Restaurant, when no one representing the restaurant appeared. The business was cited for not meeting the minimum license requirement of being open three nights a week.
Rather than continue the hearing, the selectmen agreed they would take up the matter when the restaurant appears before the board in the spring to renew its license.