Text messaging has allowed phone users to send quick and to-the-point messages without having to dial or wait for the intended recipient to be available. Though convenient for the everyday phone user, text messaging definitely has its time and place, and perhaps town meetings should be neither of them.
At town meetings, board members may receive or be sending text message which they may shared with others on the board or not. Just like looking at their computers and chatting amongst each other instead of listening while fellow members or the public are speaking, and whether they were conversing about what was being discussed during the meeting or about their personal matters is unknown.
In Londonderry, we noticed this kind of communication happen quite often. In the interest of transparency, board members should identified the sender of the message in question, what the message was about, and if pertinent to the meeting’s subject matter, it should be read into the record. The subject matter of the text message remains unknown to the public, along with weather or not it had any influence in decisions being made for the town.
In the lineup of each public meeting is time set aside for public comment, so that all can have a say and decisions can be reached as harmoniously as possible. Disruptive texting, scrolling, and gossiping is just as disrespectful as if someone were to start shouting over others and throwing things for attention instead of holding his or her peace until it is time for public comment. Both actions are bad-mannered and take attention away from the one who has the floor.
There maybe some exceptions to this rule. For example, should a board member be unable to make a meeting and need to weigh in via phone or text, or if a text was sent by a friend or family member alerting the recipient to an emergency, then that should be made clear to the room so that no one feels slighted.
This issue isn’t unique to Londonderry, and this editorial is not intended to criticize its Board’s behavior by bringing this issue to light. It is simply to suggest a no-phone policy (with the exception of the aforementioned situations) or at the very least adopt a policy reminiscent of passing notes in the classroom, and each text be read into the minutes, so that nothing is kept from the public.
For the sake of keeping the public properly informed, we’d recommend keeping all comments shared in real time, public, with the speaker clearly identified and, ideally, visible.