Public Participation Squabble Returns During Rules Review

Haverhill City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua.

City Councilor William J. Macek.

City Councilor William J. Macek.

A squabble among members of the Haverhill City Council over how and when a resident may address the body returned in full force last night during a discussion of council rules.

Members of the council’s Administration and Finance Committee agreed to make their rules about so-called “public participation” a little clearer, but rejected another request to remove restrictions.

“I know this is all against me,” Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua told his colleagues. Bevilacqua reiterated his idea the public should be able to say anything they want during regular council meetings.

Councilor William J. Macek countered, allowing unregulated discussion could dissolve into smears against other residents or city workers. “It’s a fairness thing,” he argued. Many issues can be resolved faster if councilors just take the time to listen to residents outside of meetings, Macek said. Then, elected officials can work with appropriate department heads without making a public scene.

Council President John A. Michitson concurred, adding “Macek is the master of resolving issues (behind the scenes).”

Bevilacqua said the latest plan—to have residents complete a request form—discourages people from getting involved.

“I have to go to college to fill out this form,” Bevilacqua said. He was reminded, however, there are still three other methods for residents to get on the council’s agenda—the easiest being to ask a city councilor.

Bevilacqua’s position did win support from resident Demet Haksever. She suggested councilors simply allow a 15-minute comment period. Councilors would not have to respond, avoiding any conflict with the state’s open meeting law. Rather, if an issue presented merited further consideration, councilors could schedule a full discussion at a later date.

Councilors did agree to rearrange its agenda to hear residents’ requests earlier during meetings.