Merolli given apolitical voice in 6-1 vote of Town Council
By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE — State Senate candidate Tom Merolli was granted permission to introduce himself to the Town Council, but his time at the podium was not universally welcomed and there was consternation surrounding the possibility of a political message.
Merolli approached the Town Council during the Citizen’s Forum agenda item at Monday night’s meeting, but was quickly prohibited from introducing himself as councilors debated whether the Mendon resident would be permitted to speak. Individuals who reside outside of the town are routinely subject to a vote of the Town Council to permit five minutes to speak on anything not on the meeting’s agenda. The Town Council voted 6-1 to provide Merolli the ability to speak, with Councilor Monique Manna casting the lone negative vote.
The discussion centered around past practice of prohibiting individuals from campaigning from the podium during Citizen’s Forum. Town Council Chairwoman Denise Clemence advised Merolli that only sitting elected officials are typically permitted the privilege, though campaigning has historically been prohibited in all cases. Merolli agreed to not campaign, noting he was seeking only to introduce himself.
During the discussion, resident Paul Zotos drew the chairwoman’s attention while discussing the matter with others attending the meeting. Clemence audibly shooshed Zotos and requested he remain quiet. Zotos later stepped forward and challenged Clemence to produce evidence of any local or state regulation prohibiting an individual from campaigning or speaking in favor of a candidate during a public meeting.
“There’s nothing in our bylaws,” insisted Zotos.
He later decried, “This is America, Denise!”
While not citing any specific instances, Zotos added: “There’s been a lot of chairman that stop freedom of speech and it doesn’t end well for them.”
Clemence noted the prohibition is based on past precedent from her experience on the Town Council, but pledged to research any laws governing such restrictions.