ROCKPORT — Tuesday evening, citizens from Rockport and beyond have been encouraged to deliver testimony concerning the future of the town’s library; more specifically on whether a nonbinding referendum concerning a new library should be placed on the November ballot. The Rockport Select Board has taken great pains to ensure the Aug. 5 public hearing proceedings will be fairly implemented, to the point of issuing a bill of conduct. (See below for the complete special instructions issued by the town.)
The board met July 23 to talk about how to hold a hearing/meeting on what has become a controversial, and at times acrimonious, debate in Rockport. Earlier in the month, the board agreed to hold a hearing about the proposed ballot question.
The board has also encouraged citizens to submit written comments, either mailed to the town office (P.O. Box 10, Rockport, ME 04856), delivered in person to the town office (a box is at the middle front counter), or emailed to email@example.com.
How to classify, and the Aug. 5 hearing (as a public hearing or public information meeting) became confusing even within municipal government, and the Rockport Town Attorney William Plouffe, of the Portland-based firm Drummond Woodsum, was consulted. (See attached for Plouffe’s opinions on the process.)
Rockport Public Meeting about the proposed library referendum, Aug. 6, Rockport Opera House Auditorium, 6:30 p.m.
The meeting will be recorded, but it will not be televised.
I. Call Meeting to Order
Brief opening statements by Select Board members
II. Comments from Residents regarding the request by the Library Committee to place the following non-binding referendum on the Tuesday November 4, 2014, Special Town Meeting Warrant:
Do you agree that the town of Rockport should develop a plan for a new library on the RES site, provided that the current ball fields are preserved and pending community input on design and budget?
III. Break at 10 p.m. to determine subsequent actions
IV. Select Board Discussion
V. Select Board Decision
On July 14, Rockport’s Library Committee, which consists of elected members, asked the Select Board to place on the town’s November ballot the nonbinding question: “Do you agree that the Town of Rockport should develop a plan for a new library on the RES site, provided that the current ball fields are preserved and pending community input on design and budget?”
At that meeting, the Select Board voted unanimously to hold a hearing about Library Committee’s request for ballot placement. According to Plouffe, the board is not required to hold a hearing; however, the Select Board agreed at the July 23 meeting that it wanted to hear all the citizens who had thoughts about the issue.
The board switched horses from an earlier statement that it would not be voting Aug. 5 about whether to put the question on the ballot. The board now has decided that it can, if it chooses, vote Aug. 5 on the matter. Or, the board might wait and vote at a subsequent meeting, just as long as that vote occurs before early September.
They also agreed that at the Aug. 5 meeting they wanted to hear from Rockport citizens first; residents from other towns will have to wait until all Rockport citizens have had their say at the podium.
The guiding principle, said Select Board member Charlton Ames, is for the board to “hear as much as we can hear.”
“I want to hear from as many people as possible,” said board member Ken McKinley.
Board members also pledged to read every piece of written comments from citizens.
The board also agreed to schedule more meetings, if the Aug. 5 meeting goes later than 10 p.m.
Some members of the Select Board are engaging in conversations on the street. When queried how they are engaging others in town about the issue, and who might not be inclined to submit their opinions in writing, two responded.
“Four people have approached me in person over the last two weeks concerning the library,” said board member Tracy Murphy, on Aug. 4. “All four asked me why wouldn't we vote on the subject. I agree. The best, most democratic, and straightforward way to find out what the people of Rockport are willing to do is to vote in November. The article does not ask to spend money, nor does it demand we build a library. It simply asks the Town for permission to to develop a plan to put a library on the RES site and preserve the ballfields.
“One person = one vote. It's democracy the way I was taught.”
Board chairman Bill Chapman said: “If someone speaks to me or asks me about the matter, I give my opinion couched in the terms that I am speaking only for myself. If someone were to ask me the pointed question how will I vote I typically use terms that I haven't decided and am working to keep an open mind to all suggestions.”
Guidelines for the August 5, 2014
Special Meeting of the Rockport Select Board
The public hearing will be opened promptly at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium level of the Rockport Opera House.
Very brief welcoming and opening statements will be made by the members of the Select Board wishing to do so.
A scheduled break will occur at approximately 8:30 p.m.
There will be a single sign-in sheet and all in attendance will be requested to sign in, give their local address and town, whether they wish to speak or not and, if they wish to speak, indicate if they will be speaking for, against or neither for nor against the question under discussion that evening. PLEASE PRINT YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS LEGIBLY!
For purposes of the evening, the term “residents” will include those who live in Rockport full-time or part-time, regardless of land ownership, voting status, tax situs or age. “Non-residents” will be considered all others who are in attendance. In other words, the Select Board is defining “resident” as broadly and liberally as possible for the purpose of the evening.
The Select Board, solely because of the sound characteristics of the auditorium, will sit on the stage.
One microphone will be placed in the center aisle, reasonably close to the stage so the Select Board can easily see the speaker. Those wishing to speak are asked to form an orderly line, single-file behind the microphone. It is requested that those standing in line do so in an orderly and quiet manner so any conversations or comments are not picked up by the microphone.
Each person wishing to speak may do so only once. Depending on the time it takes for everyone wishing to speak (residents and nonresidents alike), the Select Board may ask if anyone wishes to make a follow-up statement at the end of the comment period.
Before statements start, the purpose of the special meeting will be read, “To hear from the residents of Rockport and, time permitting, non-residents regarding the request by the town’s Library Committee for a non-binding referendum to be placed on the November 4, 2014, Special Town Meeting Warrant (a.k.a., secret ballot) asking, “’Do you agree that the town of Rockport should develop a plan for a new library on the RES site, provided the current ball fields are preserved and pending community input on design and budget?’”
All speakers are requested to limit their comments to a maximum of 3 minutes. A time keeper will be keeping track and will provide a count of the minutes remaining, 30 seconds remaining and 15 seconds remaining. The speaker will be able to see the time clock displayed on the tablet. Those exceeding the time limit will be asked to step down.
When a person steps to the microphone, they will be required to state their name, local address and the position they are taking on the question. The name of the speaker will be checked off when they step up to speak.
If at 10 p.m. there are still people wishing to speak, the Select Board will take a short recess to decide the following:
1. Whether to continue until all comments are heard; to decide on the Select Board discussion and to defer vote to the end of all comments
2. Whether to call a halt to the comment period and proceed to discussion and vote
3. Whether to call a halt to the comment period and schedule a second date to hear the remainder of the comments followed at that time by discussion and vote
4. Whether to call a halt to the comment period and schedule a subsequent date to have the discussion and vote
If all comments have concluded by 10 p.m., the Select Board will decide whether to proceed with the remainder of the agenda or table it to a future date.
Time permitting, members of the Select Board may decide to ask questions of individuals who had made comments earlier in the evening. This will not take place until after all, residents and non-residents alike, have had an opportunity to make their comments.
Written statements are welcome in any of the following form:
• Letter mailed to the town office (P.O. Box 10, Rockport, ME 04856) or delivered in person (a box is at the middle front counter)
• Email sent to the following special address box: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Letter delivered on arrival at the Opera House auditorium on the evening of August 5 (see special instruction below)
• Letter or documents provided as part of oral comments (see special instruction below)
SPECIAL INSTRUCTION: for those bringing letters or documents on the evening of August 5 are requested to bring 6 copies: one for each member of the Select Board and one for “the public record.”
There is no prescribed limit on the length of the letter (or e-mail) provided or any attached documents.
All letters and emails must include the submitters name and local address (if a person has a permanent mailing address other than the local address, please include that as well).
Please note, depending on time available at the end of the meeting on August 5, the Select Board may decide, at that time, to read the names of the people who have submitted letters or e-mails and the position advocated by the submitter.
All letters, e-mails and supporting documents or attachments will become part of the public record and will be made available for viewing by the public during regular business hours at the town office provided such requests are not disruptive to the normal functioning of the office and staff. No letter, e-mail, document or attachment may be removed from the office or copied. Hardcopies will be provided upon request and will be governed by Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) requirements; there may be a charge associated with providing copies.
When providing a letter or e-mail, please use the following in the heading to title.
“A statement in support of the proposed Library Committee referendum”
“A statement opposed to the proposed Library Committee referendum”
“A statement neither for nor against the proposed Library Committee referendum”
Anyone who submits a letter or e-mail prior to the August 5 meeting may, at their discretion, speak at the August 5 meeting after following the sign-in procedure.
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at email@example.com; 706-6657