Comment restrictions considered; Alderman wants to limit public input at meetings

NASHUA – Those looking to speak at Board of Aldermen meetings will have to keep their public comments limited to pertinent city business under a proposed ordinance being put forward by Alderman Ken Siegel.

“My proposal is really very simple,” Siegel said. “(Comments) have to be within the scope of the board’s authority.”

Siegel wants to make sure people commenting during the second public comment period at aldermen meetings stick to topics that can be dealt with by the board. Too often, Siegel said, this comment period is taken up with irrelevant topics that aldermen have not realistic way of managing.

“You can’t do that with other boards,” he said.

Aldermen have implemented two comment periods at regular meetings. The first is for people to comment on items on the meeting agenda. The second comment period is more open, allowing people to address the board on a topics not on the agenda. Siegel thinks this second comment period has been misused and wastes the time of the board.

In the past, one person has used the comment period to complain about a medical condition, Siegel said. At a recent meeting, two people from out-of-state used the second comment period to give a rambling and vague presentation about overlay districts that alderman could not have acted on, even if the presentation were coherent.

Alderman Ben Clemons does not like Siegel’s proposal, saying it opens the city up for possible First Amendment lawsuits.

“I’m not a fan of limiting free speech,” Clemmons said.

The board has fairly broad powers over city affairs, Clemmons said, meaning that Siegel’s proposal to limit comments to issues that the board can deal with is difficult to enforce.

“The board has jurisdiction, in some sense, over everything,” Clemmons added.

Siegle said that the board already places restrictions on topics that can be discussed at meetings, saying people are not allowed to campaign during the second comment period. He also said it is unlikely to become a legal liability for the city, since it has already passed through a city legal review.

The ordinance is now going to committee to be discussed before being brought back to the aldermen for consideration.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or or @Telegraph_DF.