ROCKPORT — Voting unanimously, the five-member Rockport Select Board agreed to hold a public hearing Aug. 5 on whether or not to place a nonbinding referendum before voters this coming November asking their opinion about siting a new town library on the former Rockport Elementary School land on West Street.
Nonbinding means that no matter how the electorate votes, it remains solely an expressed collective opinion, not an official directive for a specific course of action. The Library Committee said it needs public input from a broad range of townspeople before it can consider how to move forward with either pursuing plans for a new library at the RES site, expanding at the existing site, or considering something else entirely.
The hearing is to allow all citizens to voice opinions on the proposed warrant article, which has been suggested by the Library Committee. The language, as currently proposed, reads: “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?”
The Aug. 5 hearing, or any subsequent hearing, will also be the time when the selectmen vote whether to put the proposed article on the November warrant. There is a deadline, however, for making a firm commitment for the November warrant, and that is close to the end of August.
Library Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil stood before the board at its regularly scheduled July 14 meeting asking the town to allow Rockport voters the opportunity to vote for or against developing a plan for a new library on a portion of the town-owned land in November.
The regularly scheduled Select Board meeting filled the downstairs Opera House room with residents, some supporting the warrant article placement, others opposed.
Many residents hoped to speak at the meeting; however, Chairman Bill Chapman told them at the outset that no comments about the proposed warrant language would be allowed.
The time for that, he said, would be at an upcoming public hearing, even though the Select Board had yet, in this particular meeting, to vote whether or not to hold such a hearing.
The meeting’s outset got contentious, as citizens struggled to understand the municipal process that Chapman was laying out, and the board’s own discussion about whether questions concerning the process could be discussed.
Board member Geoffrey Parker asked whether the prohibition of public comment about the agenda item concerning the warrant language preempted any questions about Chapman’s statement.
When asked, Chapman said he had been thinking for several days about the process that the library proposal might necessitate, and said he wanted all public comments to do with the proposed warrant article to be made at the same time so that “all could have the opportunity to hear them.”
The board agreed that the process of considering the article for placement on the November ballot could take several meetings, and Parker said he hoped there would be room for a more friendly and cooperative conversation.
As a few residents raised questions about the warrant article process in the meeting’s general public comment session, Chapman banged his gavel and said no. Parker then suggested the board’s vice chairman, Charlton Ames, take leadership of the meeting for five minutes.
But the meeting resumed on track without changing the reins, and those citizens who arrived at the Opera House for that particular agenda item began to filter out of the room.
Board member Tracy Murphy pointed out that in 1980, the Library Committee and the town reached consensus, relegating oversight of library affairs to the Library Committee and not the selectmen.
“It is not our purview to direct the library unless we choose to govern differently,” she said.
Chapman said written comments concerning the library are also encouraged, and advised the public to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org prior to the Aug. 5 hearing so that the Select Board could hear and read all opinion on the matter.
After tending to other municipal business, the selectmen then returned to the agenda item: “Hear from the Library Committee regarding their request to place a nonbunding resolution on the November Warrant vis-a-vis use of the old Rockport Elementary School site for a new library.”
Meil told the board she believed a new library building could provide a gateway to the harbor and downtown businesses, plus serve as an anchor for an expanded village.
“But I’m not asking you to take my word for it,” she said. “The Library Committee respectfully requests that all Rockport voters have the opportunity to vote for or against developing a plan for a new library on a portion of the RES site, adjacent to the ball fields, this November.”
The selectmen then voted 5 to 0 to hold the Aug. 5 public hearing on the proposal.
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