UPDATED: Chairman Defends Prohibition on Public Comment at Harbormaster Hearing
Challenger Glenn Kessler responds to remarks by Chairman Matt Strauss. The chairman on Wednesday addressed criticism levied against him by Kessler and others.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Matt Strauss on Wednesday responded to criticism that he overstepped his authority earlier this year by restricting public comment at a hearing on Harbormaster Larry Bithell's job performance.
Strauss said he has been criticized by those including Glenn Kessler, his opponent in the April 24, town election, for not allowing the public to speak at the Feb. 1, hearing.
The hearing was held in public, at the request of the harbormaster. There was a large crowd.
The chairman said his decision was based on the desire for the hearing to proceed in an orderly fashion.
"Had I allowed all to speak, both for and against the harbormaster, the discussion, in my opinion, would not have been productive and, quite frankly, had the potential to get ugly," he said on Wednesday.
Strauss made his comments during selectmen's time, at the end of Wednesday's meeting, a time reserved for board members to address items of their choosing.
On Friday, April 13, the challenger in the selectmen's race had a response to the chairman's comments.
They included the following:
"I was at the Selectmen’s meeting the night of the harbormaster discussion and I stand by my opinion that our residents’ who came to voice their points of view should have been allowed to be heard, both for and against Mr. Bithell.
At Wednesday evening’s Selectmen’s meeting, my opponent argued that discussion by residents 'would not have been productive.'
That’s one of the primary differences between us. I believe that our neighbors have every right to be heard by our town government. As far as the potential “to get ugly,” evidently I have more confidence in our town to be able to have a spirited discussion about an issue without losing decorum."
Back on Feb. 1, selectmen voted unanimously to make the harbormaster an annual appointment, saying the annual review will inspire accountability.
Strauss and board member Jill Sullivan said Harbormaster Larry Bithell had become unaccountable to former Town Administrator Andrew Maylor and some members of the public.
Bithell's 33-year tenure will be reviewed before renewal for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.