standing Richmond Town Hall NEW

RICHMOND — The Richmond Town Council will be led in the coming term by Mark Trimmer, one of its four new members, while the only incumbent to earn reelection will serve as vice president in what he has said will be his last term.

Trimmer and fellow Republican Richard Nassaney will serve as president and vice president following the appointment of each on Tuesday night. The new council intends to hear a lot more from the public, Trimmer said, and efforts to keep that promise began right away as the council asked Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to draft an addendum to council rules that would create a new public forum for non-agenda items early each meeting.

The move was agreed upon by all councilors after newly-elected Republican Michael Colasante requested the amendment, saying he hopes it will improve communication by preventing people from being left to wait hours until the end of each meeting to express their views.

“We should be hearing from everyone in town before deciding on matters, and a lot of times the people are left sitting here, the taxpayers,” Colasante said. “They are basically one stockholder in a larger business, and I feel that none of us has a right to tell another person to wait. If we have already decided on everything concerning them before they talk, that is a problem.”

Colansante found full support in members, and Trimmer said the council would also consider expanding public comment for more controversial or policy-oriented agenda items as well, giving a chance to speak before decisions are made.

Trimmer said he would prefer to see it be used intermittently on topics rather than on each one, otherwise public comment and organization could become unwieldy. He said things like simple committee appointments would not likely include public comments, but policy changes and financial decisions would.

Nassaney noted that on each topic, the council had a right to open public comments, and that it was not something they needed to vote on individually.

Ellsworth was directed to focus the public comment before agenda items to “those items not on the agenda only” after she urged caution in including all items in public comment at that time. She said council responses to items that are on the agenda later in the meeting could potentially be seen as a violation.

“When you have an agenda item, you have to talk about that agenda item at the point it is on the agenda,” Ellsworth said. “If you have people talking about it before discussing the council is prepared to discuss it, there is a great temptation to respond or join in the discussion and it is a technical problem that could violate the Open Meetings Act.”

It was a risk the council agreed was not worth it, leading to agreement to keep the early public forum focused to non-agenda items. A draft of the proposed amendment will be discussed at the council’s upcoming meeting.

In an interview last month, Councilwoman Helen Sheehan said she believed the change was necessary. She said during the campaign it was clear to her and her colleagues that many taxpayers in town weren’t feeling heard.

“We spoke with many people who believed that, especially in the previous term, their voices were being silenced,” Sheehan said. “I think this is a good first step to make sure everyone has a seat at the table.”

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