NEW YEAR, NEW IDEA (Part 5):
One of the frustrations expressed to me by many Fairhaven residents is the process by which the Board of Health allows, or doesn’t allow, public comment during public meetings.
The rules are jumbled due to Covid guidelines but one thing is pretty clear, the Chairman wields considerable power over who gets to speak, when they can to speak and for how long they may speak.
Fairhaven seems to be a “tale of two committees.”
The School Committee places an item on its agenda, setting aside time for public comment.
I’ve talked with Fairhaven and Acushnet school officials who explain that this is a long standing tradition which provides the public the opportunity to address the Committee directly on agenda topics within a prescribed period of time (3 minutes seems to be the cap). The theory, I believe, is that parents are so closely tied to the education of their children that direct input fosters a more unified and cooperative sense of mission. Committee members benefit from the input and residents benefit from the ability to take an active role in the education of their children.
The Board of Health, however, doesn’t include an item for public comment.
I would argue that the same need to hear from the public exists for the Board of Health, particularly during the GREATEST PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY of our lifetime. People are worried, scared, concerned, perplexed, anxious, and about a dozen other adjectives that I can’t recall quickly enough.
The best public policy is shaped by an informed public. Residents feel that their voices are heard only if elected officials listen. Public officials listen only if they try.
New idea: Let’s establish a “Public Comment” agenda item for all Board of Health meetings! It can be structured similar to the regular opportunity provided by the School Committee. Time limits and agenda restrictions can be established. Decorum must be maintained and if residents understand that time is carved out regularly for their input, I am sure the good people of Fairhaven will cooperate.
The more I campaign the more I come to the conclusion that something in town broke between those who are elected and those who elected them. This one small modification, a simple agenda item, could go a very long way to tending to those wounds.
Kevin Gallagher, Candidate, Board of Health
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