2016-03-24 / News

Support grows for another general meeting in Biddeford

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The city may hold its third general meeting of residents within a year. Petitioner Karl Reed Jr. said he is close to submitting the required 100 signatures necessary to force the city to hold the meeting.

According to Article XII, Section 4 of the city charter, a general meeting “of the citizens qualified to vote in the City affairs may from time to time be held to consult upon the public good, to instruct their representatives, and to take all lawful measures to obtain redress of any grievances according to the right secured to the people.”

The petition states that a general meeting is requested “in regards to reinstating the public comment portion, (being) allowed to engage on more than one agenda item of city council meetings as well as establishing a time limit that is at least five minutes, but not to exceed ten minutes.”

At a Jan. 5 meeting, the city council changed its rules to only allow public comment for three minutes per person on specific agenda items, and to hold general public comment during the meetings of municipal officers, which are separate from city council meetings and will only be scheduled as needed.

Reed said he was motivated to petition for the general meeting because he felt somewhat responsible for the council changing the rules on public comment. In August, while Reed was speaking during public comment, and using profanity, Mayor Alan Casavant interrupted Reed and ceased public comment, immediately adjourning the meeting.

Last summer, after allegations of sexual assault were made against two former police officers, several city council meetings were overwhelmed by members of the public who were angered with the city’s response to the allegations.

“I took initiative because part of the reason it’s gone is because of me so I felt some responsibility to bring it back,” Reed said. “They obviously had issues with me swearing and I understand that.”

Reed said most people he has approached to sign the petition have been supportive, but, “others are hesitant who work for the city or get money from the city.”

If successful, Reed said the city will pick a date and schedule the meeting.

Reed said when the city initially established restrictions on what could be talked about during public comment, he interpreted the restrictions as a violation of his First Amendment rights.

“They say you can’t discuss personnel, but that’s in a public sphere,” Reed said. “If the petition doesn’t work, I might actually go to a lawsuit.”

In a previous interview, City Manager James Bennett said, “Under state law, there’s only one requirement – that the public has a right to be there, not the right to speak. They only have a right to speak at the pleasure of the council … The thought process that citizens inherently have the right to say anything they want (at meetings) is not factually correct.”

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