The Andover School Committee has decided to limit the time people will have to comment at its meetings, to keep those meetings from stretching to 11 p.m. or midnight. Assuming the limits are used to focus discussion and not stifle it, the committee has done a reasonable thing the right way.

More than 10 years ago, a different board of School Committee members talked about creating time limits, with one member even bringing an egg timer to a meeting. At the time, dozens of parents were attending meetings upset that the committee would not discuss a school department decision to change principals at West Middle School. The time limits were seen as a way to stifle opposing viewpoints, were unpopular and the experiment did not stick.

Today's committee is making the change the right way, by establishing the rule at the beginning of the school year, when there are no strong emotionally and politically charged issues before it. The decision is being made to produce better, faster meetings. Of course, people will have to defend their democracy against any officials willing to abuse the limits by applying them unfairly. And any committee that tries to misuse the time limits should be voted out.

But time limits can be a good thing when it comes to governmental discussions. Time limits force speakers to focus. There is nothing helpful about 30-minute ramblings or 20-minute rants. While the three-minute time limit might be a little too restrictive, anyone who sits through meetings regularly knows that many speakers repeat themselves or fail to get to their point quickly if given unlimited time. People coming to meetings now are likely to think much more about what they want to say before they arrive at the meeting. They may even write their statement out. That should lead to better discussions and more productive meetings.

In fact, the committee members should not just restrict members of the public, but ought to impose guidelines for themselves. Some members of the public and some elected officials think that the longer they speak, the more impact they have. The opposite is true. Brevity and insight is remembered; long-windedness reviled. Surely committee members can express their views on an issue, unless they are making a major presentation, within a certain time frame. This will help improve meetings further. Then, volunteer members of the board, parents and educators all will get home earlier and be more refreshed to tackle issues the next day.



Main Street madness

The town says work on the Main Street improvement project could start as early as this fall. We'll forgive residents if they don't hum the Hallelujah chorus just yet. After all, it's been 10 years since the Main Street plan was first conceived, and officials have projected inaccurate estimated start dates several times since. Residents probably should temper their enthusiasm until we see, not only work being done, but traffic moving more freely and safely through the downtown as a result.

But frankly, the project does seem closer to its launch date than in past years. And the cause of delays -- town-fueled interest in adding visually pleasing extras such as special lighting and benches, and the state's need to suck money out of local projects to plug holes in the Big Dig -- should be over.

Aesthetic improvements should be a bonus paid for by $570,000 in Andover Town Meeting money. However, if workers can start and finish this state-funded project by 2009 and improve traffic flow while making the downtown safer for pedestrians, then we will all sing a happy tune.

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