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Poll: Limiting Public Comment on State Hospital Issues at Town Meetings

Medfield Board of Selectmen chair Ann Thompson’s attempt to limit public comment regarding issues of the Medfield State Hospital at Tuesday’s meeting raised an interesting question – Should public participation be limited to prevent a long meeting?

Medfield Board of Selectmen chair Ann Thompson raised some eyebrows at Tuesday’s selectmen meeting when she made several attempts – all unsuccessful – to end public discussion on the and move on to “information items” on the agenda.

Thompson made nine separate attempts to end public discussion – which lasted one hour, one minute and nine seconds – on issues relating to the status of the Medfield State Hospital because she was concerned residents watching the meeting at home would tune out.

“I get complaints all the time when I go to church or the store or walk the dog that it’s the same people talking at town meeting, every meeting, saying the same thing [about the state hospital issue] and they turn off the television,” Thompson said. “I don’t want them to turn it off, I want them to watch the meetings and it’s part of open meeting law. I want to see it open, I want to see people watch us and if they turn us off, then that ruins the whole purpose of having a discussion.”

The group of 13 residents in attendance to discuss the state hospital did not buy into Thompson’s reasoning.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Jessica Benson, a Medfield resident and state hospital abutter, who further voiced her frustrations with how Thompson conducted the state hospital discussion in a .

“With all due respect to Ann’s many years of positive service to Medfield while on the board, on this subject, her behavior at this meeting in trying to deny the public’s right to be heard casts serious doubt on her ability to adequately represent the town in mediation. If you are unwilling to listen to your constituents at a public meeting on Medfield State Hospital and in fact, try to repeatedly shut down conversation, how can we have any assurance that you will strongly advocate for us behind closed doors in mediation?” Benson wrote.

Selectman Osler “Pete” Peterson also failed to reason with Thompson’s logic.

“I think, Ann, that it is inappropriate to stop the discussion on this,” Peterson said. “This is a very important topic in this town and I’m encouraged that people are actually taking time to come to our meeting to discuss this with us.”

In response to Thompson’s statement, Peterson suggested those viewers watching the meetings on TV, who tune out, might not be interested in the issues being discussed.

“Sounds like those people are interested in meetings that have nothing going on in them,” Peterson said. “If they are turning off meetings because there’s discussions of town issues then I don’t know what to say about those sorts of people.”

Peterson added that the state hospital is an “important topic in town” and the selectmen have to “care about it,” which put Thompson on the defensive.

“We have other things to discuss,” Thompson said just after 40 minutes of discussion related to updates on the state hospital’s status and questions and concerns about the mediation process with DCAM. “I care about [the state hospital issue], I don’t know how long you people have lived in town but I’ve lived here for 48 years now. Not only have I lived here a long time but I have been on town boards for 40 years, three of my adult children live here and grandchildren are here so I have a long-term interest in the future of this town, probably more than anybody else here.”

Medfield resident Tom Caragliano didn’t agree with Thompson’s statement.

“Oh come on Ann, don’t say that,” he said.

Thompson continued.

“I’m thinking on a personal level,” Thompson explained. “I have a very deep commitment to what happens to the future of this town. There is no question about it.”

While few would question Thompson’s commitment to the future of Medfield, Benson did question the chairman’s effectiveness in the town’s upcoming mediation with DCAM.

“When you have leaders in your town that refuse to listen to their constituents' concerns at a public meeting, then I think, with all due respect to Mike Sullivan, it is difficult to have FAITH in their leadership,” Benson wrote in her letter to the editor.

Others were simply puzzled by Thompson's desire to close the topic for discussion when residents were expressing questions and concerns regarding the town's upcoming mediation with DCAM over the extent of cleanup to be completed at the state hospital site.

It was Peterson’s remarks to Thompson followed by selectman Mark Fisher’s invitation to hear “new comments” that led to 17 additional minutes of discussion between residents and town officials before the board moved to the informational items on the agenda.

What were those items that Thompson tried nine separate times to get to in the hour-long discussion of the state hospital?

  • Medfield’s Chapter 90 FY13 apportionment is $401,430.
  • Comcast submitted a complaint form containing information related to customer video service in town for selectmen review.
  • The MetroWest Health Foundation 2011 Report to the Community is coming up. Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said the town has received grants from the foundation in the past.
  • MIIA Insurance information update on worker’s compensation: “Two of the three premiums remain the same,” Sullivan said. “We are getting participation credits for having participated in that program for about 25 years now.”
  • A notice that Lt. Governor Murray and the Military Asset Security Strategy Task Force will be meeting on April 23 at 11:45 a.m. in the Morse Library in Natick. “There may be some people interested in attending that,” Sullivan said.
  • Columbia Gas is asking for a 6.4 percent rate increase, according to Sullivan, for the gas distribution portion of the bill, effective in November, 2012. “[The increase] is necessary [according to Columbia Gas] to repair the leaky gas lines across the state,” Sullivan said.

That discussion, for the record, lasted 2 minutes and 59 seconds.

What was discussed at Tuesday’s Selectmen meeting?

For more on what was discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen, check out the following articles and log on to Medfield Patch Friday to read more on the issues discussed relating to the Medfield State Hospital:

See for yourself:

For those who missed Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, or would like to view the discussion of the state hospital issues, in its entirety, follow this link to Medfield.TV.

What do you think?

So Medfield, we want to know …

Today’s question: Should public participation regarding questions and concerns pertaining to the state hospital be limited to prevent a long meeting?

Want to expand on your answer? Leave us a comment below!

GM April 20, 2012 at 02:38 PM
The public's interest in the State Hospital redevelopment is a good thing. The disagreement over discussion time at the Selectmen's meeting is a clear indicator that there is a need to provide more opportunity for those interested to become educated about what's going on with the hospital property and to provide their inputs into what the town should do. BUT, people who want to comment need to learn about the process and the restrictions that affect what the town can force the state to do before they try to push hard line positions onto the Selectmen. Given the process the state follows for redeveloping its surplus property, there are positions that the town will not be in a position to force on the state. In several of the meetings that I have attended, people are DEMANDING that the town do things that the town can not necessarily do. These absolute demands undercut the town's ability to negotiate with the state to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for cleaning up the property. As far as the Selectmen's meeting agenda goes, it sounds like future agendas might benefit from having the state hospital discussion as the final agenda item, so that any other topics can be dealt with first. Then the rest of the time available for the meeting can be devoted to the state hospital discussion.
Maryanne Sullivan April 20, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Public discussion on this extremely important issue should NOT be limited!! Nothing good can come from stopping the free flow of discussions and passion surrounding this very much unresolved problem for our town and generations to come. We have an obligation to ourselves, our children, and our future generation of Medfield residents to make sure the State cleans up this to it site in its entirety!

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