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Ashfield board improves tone

ASHFIELD — After last month’s discussion about conduct during Selectboard meetings produced an angry exchange between two board members, this week’s meeting was smooth sailing.

I think it’s going great tonight,” Selectboard Chairman Douglas Field said Wednesday night. “I really do.”

“If we continue to go this way, maybe we can put those (disagreements) behind us,” said board member Ron Coler. “If not, then we should roll up our sleeves and deal with them.”

At least 30 people attended Wednesday’s meeting, in which board members were to come back with ideas on how to make things run more smoothly. The meeting was taped by five audio recorders and one video recorder.

Select-board member Paulette Leukhardt gave several suggestions she thought would help.

In response to Field and Coler’s complaints over how much time the board spends on reading and revising its meeting minutes, Leukhardt suggested that the board receive email copies, at least a day before the board meeting. That way, board members could read it in advance, and bring proposed revisions to Selectboard meetings in writing. She had also suggested emailing their proposed revisions, but Town Administrator Mary Fitz-Gibbon said such a step could be interpreted as a “deliberation,” in violation of the Open Meeting Law.

Instead of a new policy of not calling on audience members outside of a specified public comment period, Leukhardt suggested letting residents speak if they have information about the subject at hand. Field agreed, providing the purpose was to give information and without getting the meeting off track.

“I see that as the basis of the problem,” said Coler. “One reason this has gone so well tonight is you have controlled the meeting,” he told Field. “If, at some point, the audience runs away with the meeting, and we can’t get our business done...”

“We’ll shut it down,” Field said.

“We could put a time limit on it,” said Leukhardt. “It has worked in past years.”

Leukhardt suggested allocating the first 10 minutes of the meeting to residents who are not on the agenda, but who want to raise an issue with the board. Leukhardt pointed out that a resident with a fairly simple question had to wait two hours, until the public comment period, before being allowed to speak.

Also, Leukhardt said she would rather have the board members discuss their differences, with the aim of reaching a consensus, before voting on articles.

“I respect Robert’s Rules of Order, but I would like to see us operate as a team,” she said. “Two can out-vote, but I would rather discuss and work out a compromise, so everyone feels we’re a team,” said Leukhardt.

“I’ve always been a believer in consensus,” said Coler, “but it’s not always possible to reach consensus. ... If it comes down to not taking action, I’m always in favor of consensus. But sometimes you have to move on.”

Her final request was to have selectmen share concerns about the meetings with other board members, before coming to the board with one member’s proposed solutions.”

“I think it might have been better if you said, ‘We have a problem, let’s talk about it’ rather than give us a resolution,” Leukhardt told Coler. “It would have felt like we were a team.”

All three members agreed to try to become a better team.

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