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Council President Changes Open Forum Rules
Tammy Daniels,
11:16PM / Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Robert Cardimino, left, has often been an aggravation to the council and the mayor. Council President Ronald Boucher is now asking residents to submit in writing what they plan to address in open forum.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Those planning to speak during the City Council's open forum will have to put it in writing. Council President Ronald Boucher on Tuesday said that residents planning to speak will have to submit the issue they wish to speak on — and stick to it. He said the new rule would go into effect at the next meeting on March 22 and was prompted by the brouhaha at the end of the last council meeting.

"The disrespect shown to the open forum process, this council body and this administration will not be tolerated or allowed," said Boucher, who added the council chambers were not the place for arguments or allegations between the public and the administration.

Outspoken critic Robert Cardimino had apparently taken Mayor Richard Alcombright to task about several issues and accused him of having city plows clear private driveways. He held up a picture of convicted swindler Bernie Madoff and compared him to the mayor.

Cardimino, a strong supporter of the past administration, has frequently addressed the mayor during council meetings, demanding answers and lobbing allegations on a variety of issues. While Cardimino has stated it's within his First Amendment rights to speak at council, Boucher described it as a privilege.

"It is a privilege to address this council body either on an agenda item or in open forum," he said, "and to voice your opinions in a respectful manner.

"As adults we are all responsible and accountable for our actions."

Cardimino, seated in the front row, whispered loudly, "They're going to do whatever they can to stifle us."

Boucher had recommended changes to Council Rule 11 earlier this year. The change would have moved open forum to the beginning of the meeting from the end, but calls from residents concerned they would not have a chance to respond to issues that arose during the meeting led Boucher to withdraw it.

Instead, open forum speakers would be limited to 2 minutes and required to be respectful.

Mayor Alcombright said Cardimino's actions impugned his integrity and the council's respectability.

Alcombright, reading from a letter to the council, said he had not supported moving open forum but did applaud any changes that would add to the council's decorum, particularly in terms of Cardimino, who once dumped a rock on the council president's desk.

"Last year, he held up cards to the camera that said 'despicable Dick'," said the mayor. "Mr. Cardimino might hide behind the First Amendment and claim to have the right to do this and while I think there are some in the community who think this is funny and entertaining, I think any comments from anyone in attendance at these meetings that cross the line need to be firmly dealt with and people should be held accountable."

Rather than using a broad brush, he urged Boucher to consider that "taking swift or decisive action to remove or ban those who cannot maintain civility might be the way to go."

Councilor Keith Bona suggested that Boucher should "just react quicker with that gavel."

The pugnacious Cardimino had the last word of the night: "Go ahead and challenge me," he said, "and I'll challenge you back."

 

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