FALMOUTH — The Town Council wants to standardize the way every volunteer board and committee operates, from how the agendas look to offering the public at least one opportunity to speak at each meeting.

Questions about how town committees are supposed to work were first raised earlier this year during the contentious debate over the unpopular 2016 rezoning. In particular, foes of the zoning targeted how the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee, or LPAC, was operating.

The issue was taken up again when the council’s 2020 work plan was discussed at the Sept. 9 meeting.

Former Town Council candidate and vocal zoning critic Valentine Sheldon, along with others, have contended that members of LPAC missed too many meetings. They’ve complained as well about how difficult it was to find agendas, which didn’t provide enough information about the issues up for discussion. Detractors also complained about comments being barred during committee debate.

Questions also previously arose about the ability to either view or listen to committee meetings after the fact. The town regularly offers live and on-demand viewing of Town Council, Planning Board, Board of Zoning Appeals and School Board meetings, but other committees doing the work of the town are not videoed and often there’s not even a voice recording of what occurred.

The Appointments Committee, which includes Councilors Caleb Hemphill, Janice De Lima and Tommy Johnson, was the group tasked earlier this year with determining how best to ensure that all committees operate the same way.

Specifically, the three were asked to “review town committees to ensure compliance, (with) attendance requirements … posting agendas, recording committee meetings, and public comment opportunities,” according to the work plan document. The Appointments Committee was also asked to consider whether each committee should provide in-person annual or semi-annual updates of their work.

The Appointments Committee next meets on Oct. 18, and Hemphill, who chairs the group, said it hasn’t yet scheduled a policy discussion on committee standardization but he anticipates that making operational changes “won’t be very complicated.”

He said the Appointments Committee will look into what other towns do in terms of recording committee meetings, consider public comment opportunities and will ask all committees to follow the Town Council format when creating and posting agendas.

Some standardization of committee practice is important because it will “result in consistency” for anyone from the public who’s interested in following a particular issue or the work of a specific committee, Hemphill said.
He said the Appointments Committee might reach out to current committee chairs to talk about how the various committees now operate. He also anticipates that none of the proposed changes would require Town Charter or ordinance amendments.

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