Thursday, October 26, 2006

TOWN BD MEETING LASTED TILL 12:40 AM

Last night the Town Board met till around 12:40 AM. We started our meeting at 7:15 PM. We held a discussion on a proposed comprehensive plan close to midnight. We heard citizen comments about issues of importance (100 Manhattan Ave) after midnight.
Is this fair to the public? Are members of the council at our listening best during the midnight hour? Is it unreasonable to expect commissioners and dept heads to stay till the end of every town board meeting -especially if meetings continue so late?
Should the Town Board consider holding a 3rd meeting each month - with the understanding that meetings end no later than 10:30 PM?
Last nights Town Board meeting ended relatively early - the meeting before that ended around 2 AM.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Meetings should end at a reasonable time. Even viewers can't focus on what happens after midnight.

Anonymous said...

There was also a problem with the call in -- note to Board -- that beeping is people trying to call in.

When I tried to call in, I got cut off.

Can we have it working better before next meeting -- thanks

Anonymous said...

The Town Board could hold public hearings on separate evenings. The leaf law hearing held last night took up a good portion of the meeting.
I think that it is great that Supervisor Feiner and the town board provide the public with so many opportunities to participate in government. In other communities people are not provided with a forum to express themselves. This blog, your hearings make us feel that we are being listened to.

Anonymous said...

I think the Town Council has to reconsider half-baked actions before introducing them. Look at how much time was spent on leaves, particularly when the Council said they knew there were issues with the legislation. Next time, council, if you know there are problems, solve the problems before you introduce legislation and stop wasting everyone's time.

Michael Kolesar said...

The Town Board may be trying to do too much too soon and I would venture that it won't do any of it well. Why schedule four public hearings on the same night? I watched until 12:10 AM or so after the Visitors session ended. Very tedious. Encourage people to present written comments, which forces people to think more clearly rather than just get up and speak from notes. This may slow down the "process", but result in a better end product.

Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,

People did submit comments on leaves before the meeting. The council knew there were issues.

They just dont care.

Why should they, as has been asked repeatedly, this would not appear to affect the villages, their major constituents.

Anonymous said...

I just moved to Edgemont from LA. I watched the meeting last night on TV. One of the members of the Town Council seemed like he was falling asleep or was asleep and yawned constantly. I don't know his name. He was near the podium. If members of the Town Council are falling asleep in the middle of a hearing how can we have confidence that they are really listening to us.

Anonymous said...

Heah -- it went passed my bedtime too.

fyi -- the council members here ar part time. They are paid a part time stipend. So I assume they have other jobs (including any stay at home parents, which as a mom who works out of the home, I know is no picnic).

hal samis said...

Dear Anonymous,

Town Council, a part time job, is not an obligation. Those who assume it do so at their own risk.
It pays very well for a part time position, considering the benefits and perks. In fact, I suspect that this part-time pay is equal or greater than many Greenburgh residents earn.

And don't forget that there is only one Town Board meeting in July and August.

If the Town Board did its (home)work better before appearing in public, the meetings would go more smoothly and speedily. And the meetings would also go more quickly if those on the dais were not performing little re-election sketches within the Agenda topic.

And, considering that the Town Council has the resources of the entire town departments and a legislative aide and that most of what appears live has already been discussed on Tuesday at their work seesion, that the material reaching the floor/public meeting is still so "raw" is also the reason that it generates so much "time consuming" public comment -- unpaid comment which often results in work product much better than those earning the near $30,000 "part time" remuneration.

But most of all, scheduling a lot of hearings/discussions on the same night leads to late meetings. Perhaps having two town board meetings a month with the option of an additional meeting to handle the uncontroversial "routine" procedural items when the two meeting schedule screams out that there are time consuming Agenda items ahead.

Finally, with all due respect, the presentations by Mr. Liskov and Chief Kapica, while both were passionate in their own style re their topics, they were a little on the longish side if not also repetitive. This is often what happens when individuals or groups are asked to give "reports" to the Town Board. On the other hand, during the Public Comment portion of the meeting, citizens are "encouraged" if not regulated to speak for only five minutes.

TVozick said...

Yes, adding additional meeting(s), and sticking to a strict end-time, sounds like it would increase productivity and be fairer to both the board and the residents of the town. Strictly enforcing the time rule for speakers would also help, and clarifying that "5 minutes" doesn't mean 5 minutes now, and then 5 minutes after another speaker has finished, and then another 5 minutes, etc - as I saw at a recent public hearing.
Tina Vozick
Uninc Gbgh

Anonymous said...

Dear Hal,

As to what the Council members earn, it may be more than what some Greenburgh residents earn, it is also less than what a lot of Greenburgh residents earn, even corrected for part time status. But by that measure, Mr. Feiner is clearly earning more than what a lot of residents earn. If we want to cut council and supervisors pay, we should have a full time paid manager.

Anonymous said...

For over two years I've been waiting for the tennis bubble to be approved at veteran town park. If the town board would approve the bubble so we can play tennis in the winter I wouldn't care if they met all night and didn't go to sleep!

Anonymous said...

I know the citizens groups worked hard for the leaf law and the code enforcement, but I didnt think they had reached a point for legislation to be introduced. In the future, groups like this should have hearings and then get legislation introduced. To hear legislation being introduced with the caveat, "we know there are problems with this" is a waste of time. The groups could be given a slot, televised, with the call in facility, on a non Council meeting night, hear the comments, then draft legislation, then the town council can go through it in a work session, and finally introduce legislation and have a formal hearing.

I do appreciate the citizens that put all this time into this, but to introduce legislation prematurely is just frustating and time consuming.

Anonymous said...

The Town Board meetings go on forever. Some of the members of the Board can't seem to put finality to anything. Less meetings. More action.

hal samis said...

Dear Tina and the anonymous comment following her,

Speaking limits at PUBLIC HEARINGS cannot be regulated by the Town Board as the Town Attorney, Tim Lewis, only recently learned. The Town Board can prevent repetitive comments by the same individual but it cannot otherwise limit speaking by individuals -- even if they are not residents. That is the nature of PUBLIC HEARINGS and these laws regualting them are set by a higher authority, the State Government.

The reason that people get back up for additional 5 minute increments is to allow those who haven't yet spoken a chance to speak.

Public Comment, during Town Board meetings, not the Public Comment of PUBLIC HEARINGS, can be controlled by the rules of the Town Board. It has been fairly well established that during this section of the evening, the public can speak on topics of its choice or on Agenda items, or both.

Both methods of participation are the hallmarks of open government and, who knows, the Town Board may even learn from the public. If this distresses you, consider this just one of the costs of allowing democracy to exist.

As for the second comment by anonymous, I have no objection to paying hard working town officials their worth, whatever the cost. I said what I said because I think it is important for the Public to understand that the Town Council members earn a substantial amount of money and benefits for part-time work hours and thus no one should feel sorry for their occasional late night. The bulk of the Town Board meetings end before 11:00 and some have ended as early as 9:00.

Furthermore, many communities do not even pay their Council members.
These residents serve as volunteers as do my good friends at the Library Board and the members of the Town's Zoning and Planning Boards.

But the unthanked stars of these meetings are the members of the Public who not only attend, stay just as late as the Town Board members, are unpaid and just as often as not, disrespected. Meanwhile, it is very often these citizens who make the difference between good and bad resolutions, policies and programs.

By way of putting thins in persepctive, a part-time retail sales clerk (they are to fe bound at every store we shop at) if they earn as much as $10 per hour x 20 hours a week (the point at which chain stores avoid paying benefits) x 52 weeks = $10,400. And they have little choice about working weekends, holidays and nights. I don't suggest that the work/reponsibility is the same or that Town Council members are not entitled (well, maybe some) to more than $10 an hour but standing on your feet in no great fun either. But these sales clerks live somewhere and I suspect quite a few live in Greenburgh as do gardeners, maids, waitresses, MacDonald's cashiers, etc.

IN 2006, Town Council members earned $27,507 each plus benefits including health plan (or cash in lieu of enrollment) and particpation in the State retirement plan. In 2007, if they get a 3% raise, they will be earning $28,332 and during 2006 their "work load" got easier with the hiring of an aide @$50,000.

$10,400 (no benefits) vs $27,507 (benefits and an aide).

Let's not hear any more concern for these overworked elected officials, the Town Council (4 year terms vs the Supervisor's 2 year term) who most often create their own problems due to their own negligence or lack of interest.

Anonymous said...

MR Samis
How much does the supervisor earn?

hal samis said...

Dear anonymous,
I don't have the 2006 budget with me (I'm not home) but I think I remember the amount in the $123-126,000 range. He is the highest executive of the Town but he is not the highest paid. The Chief of Police earns more as did the former Assessor and there may even be one or two others just under. I will check this when I have the budget but, in any case, it is well under $130,000.

A professional town manager would cost more.

Town Crier said...

Not exactly. Professional management has the potential to find savings and to cut out the need for other personnel who are doing what a professional manager would do. Inadequate insurance cost the Town millions. There is also a value to having the Town run professionally. What we have now is amateur hour or hours as evidenced by the wasteful board meeting on leaf removal. If the Supervisor went away for 6 months would anyone really notice? The same might be said about the current governor. We need to cut these bloated jobs down to size. All the villages have professional management. Why not Greenburgh?

Anonymous said...

$130,000 - WHAT ABOUT BENEFITS?

Michael Kolesar said...

To respond with some specifs and estimates to help those interested in this discussion, I offer the following.

The Supervisor's direct compensation is budgeted at $123,901 for calendar 2006.

The average cash cost of current benefits for all Town employees is in the range of 35 to 40%. That means on average, that an employee who receives direct cash of say $50,000 actually costs the taxpayers about $67,500 to $70,000,on average and averages can be misleading. This does not include the cost of post employment health insurance which is the ticking time bomb in most municipalities.

For individuals employed in the "private" sector, ask your HR department or your CFO / Controller what the cash costs of your benefit package is and I doubt that with the exception of a very large and profitable company like GE or Verizon, etc. the cost is not greater than 20% and probably closer to 15%. Just some information. More to come ....

Anonymous said...

Why do we need a professional manager?
The town taxes are lower than school tax increases.
The services in Greenburgh are excellent.
Calls are returned.
The financial health of the town is good.
Programs are well run.
The crime rate is very low.
A town manager would cost taxpayers an extra six figures + additional staff.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

You raise a lot of good points, and this an issue for the Town, Village, schools etc. Public sector benefits are out of hand. I think most NYS public sector employees are in state mandated plans. NYC has constantly complained how Albany raises these, and then the localities pay.

We need Albany to help us. Instead, they issue mandates to cap school expenditures, when they should be reducing pensions. They can only reduce on a going forward basis, but even that would help.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:45

What part of town services are good?

Our trash collection and leaf removal is terrible.

Once the villagers start having to pay for parks, they will be complaining also.

Anonymous said...

I believe most village mayors and trustees serve for very little or no pay. They work incredibly hard and generally do a fantastic job while holding down full time jobs. They go to work sessions and other meetings in the same manner as Town Board members do. Why are we paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Town Board members then? If we had professional management like the villages we could save all this money. A small stipend may be in order. Maybe health benefits. But $28 grand in salaries plus benefits for these part time jobs with such little accomplishment? We are being ripped off.

Anonymous said...

Greenburgh is lucky to have Paul Feiner as our Town Supervisor. Our town is well managed. Tax increases have been kept to a minimum (much less than school districts). Supervisor Feiner's salary is less than many town or village managers earn. He works harder than appointed managers. He is always available to respond to our problems day, night or weekend. A few months ago I had a Con Ed power outage. Supervisor Feiner called Con Ed. He even stopped by at my house the next day to personally check up to see if my electricity had been restored.

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear Anonymous,

First, I personnally wish that one would just identify one's self, even if only to call yourself Anonymous 36 to differentiate yourself.

You ask Albany to help us. You have got to be kidding. Albany created this mess. The various unions that benefit, whether it be Health care, CSEA, Teamsters, or police through their PBA's, are all major political contributors and have full time lobyists in Albany.

I doubt that the average taxpayer in Greenburgh understands that the average cash cost of a policeman in unincorporated Greenburgh is about $130,000 annually and that excludes the future cost of teir post employment lifetime medical coverage. If accounted for in the same way that public corporations have to account for these kinds of benefits, this would add an additional $15,000 to $20,000 annually to the bove number.

To document the first part, go to the Town budget for 2006 and go to the "B" budget and department 3120. Total the personnel lines down through 101.1 on page 54. This totals $9,696,036. Add to this the police overtime of $817,600 plus the police holiday pay of $301,283 and you get approximately $10,815,000. Multiply this by an additional 40% (it might actually be + / - 2% or so, but close enough for this discussion) and the total cash cost is approximately $15,141,000. Divide this by the 116 members of the police force and the result is slightly more than $130,000 per professional member of the department. I have excluded civilian members for this purpose. By the way, Greenburgh isn't out of line. For the Village of Ardsley, this cost is approaching $150,000 per member per year.

The additional cost of the post employment health coverage requires a few more assumptions, which may certainly be challenged or modified, but here goes.

My assumption is that the police retire after 20 years and that this occurs at about age 45. Thus, an individual has a future life expectancy of another 25 to 30 years. The current cost of family medical coverage is probably around $1,000 per month. So $1,000 x 12 months x 25 years = $300,000. Spread over the 20 years of employment / service that averages out to $15,000 per year. This assumes that any current funding could earn a rate of return equal to the future increases in health premium costs, which is very optimistic as health care costs have been increasing at about 10% annually for many years.
If the current monthly cost is $1,200, and one uses 30 years, then the total becomes $432,000, or $21,600 per year. This is just an illustration of range of this item. This benefit also applies to many other employees of the Town and other municipalities assuming they work long enough and I believe starts at around age 60 or 65, so the absolute cost is lower because of the shorter expected life span remaining.

Just some food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

I think we all are aware of this problem, all though you do illustrate it very well -- but what solutions do you see

You can call me anon 36.2

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear Anon 36.2,

Obviously there must be a significant change in Albany and I personnally doubt that this will occur while I am a resident of this State. It's one reason, retirees keep fleeing our State for less costly places to live out their "golden years" without being driven to substandard life styles.

Second, local municipal officials need (A) to understand the total cost of employees for their municipalities and most don't. So that means electing people who do and then supporting them when they make the "hard" decisions, which most voters don't. I believe that municipalities have to stop overpaying for many positions. Unlike the private sector where if one feels undercompensated, one is "encouraged" to seek employment elsewhere, municipalities just keep giving and giving and giving ....

In effect, we have met the enemy and he is us. Thanks for reading. I am open to others' suggestions. I don't presume to have all or necessarily any of the answers. Many people far more versed in these areas than I have studied and written about this. If one facet of this exchange is just to get some members of the public more aware of the facts, I hope that you feel that I have accomplished something beneficial.

tvozick said...

Hal, I am all in favor of open government and the public having its say. But when one or two members of the public dominate the discussion and repeatedly step up to the microphone to make points it can become counter-productive. People don't listen, board members appear to be dozing off (who can blame them, it's after midnight). The meetings go on too long. So I was suggesting that time limits be placed - if not by law, then by agreement among the parties so that meetings and hearings remain productive. I would think that long position papers could and should be entered into the public record of a public hearing, but that they not necessarily have to be read aloud. This was just a comment about the length of meetings, not a suggestion that the public be silenced.

I do, however, think that sometimes
too much discussion goes on, and not enough voting. Things can be agreed upon provisionally, pending specific amendments or changes, and one would feel like progress was being made rather than interminable discussion.

Tina Vozick

hal samis said...

Dear Ms Vozick,

Democracy is a feel good concept that is based upon preserving the right of the people to speak, either aloud or by voting.

Public Hearings are specific events that specifically solicit and elicit the public to comment upon the topic. Partisans of the topic are heard as are their opponents -- and those who, while not as passionatly involved, nevertheless have come and put forth the effort to appear and register their views.

Admittedly this is a lengthy and involved process. However there is a certain value to reading position papers into the record even though they could be submitted...

The answer to this should be obvious...how many transcripts and hearing files have you examined? Citizens want not only to register their comments but they want them to be seen, perhaps to inspire, and be heard by others. They want others to remember that they brought something to the Town Board's attention. If the Town Board is sleeping or disregards or disagrees with a point of view, they do so knowing that other members of the community were present and know that the Board was given such notice and background.

By the way, there is nothing to prevent the Town Board from adjourning the Hearing to another date. The meeting's run late because there are too many such shows scheduled for the same night or because there is some "urgency" requiring immediate action. This is the result of poor plannig for matters which need such consideration. Of course, such exigent matters should have been scheduled for discussion months earlier.

It is interesting that you suggest "private agreements" could be used to circumvent the law. This is the very type of thing that has recently been the culprit causing a great deal of time- consuming public discussion. I suggest that when laws exist, it would be more prudent to follow them. Differing interpretations of existing laws are, however, are where the Courts and Lawyers and "witnesses" hold their public hearings.

Finally voting only takes a few minutes. Surely you don't think that more time is needed for this; time which should be taken from the public's right to speak.

And it would be so simple if there were only 1, 2 or 3 sides or only a few comments and that these should only take a few minutes to present and thus everyone would get home earlier.
Dream on.

Democracy is expensive; not only just to forcefully export it abroad but also to practice at home. Be fortunate that no one says that you must stay in your seat or stay up at home watching. If you are offended by seeing democracy in action, just go home or change the channel.

If the same people have lots of new things to say and need lots of time to say them, that says to me that the issue may be more complex than has been previously assumed.
Perhaps, if the Town had spent more time with some matters and not been in such a rush to call the question, the Town Board may not need so much time now to correct or defend that which was rushed to a vote. On some of these matters, the Town is now spending a great deal more time and dollars discussing and arguing...before a Judge.

So, unless, you want to continue the practice of rushing to vote and abet this by restricting public comment, be prepared to see these hasty votes also be investigated by others. Time spent before Judges and arbitrators is expensive. With lawsuits resulting, it makes no sense to restrict speech; it turns out that, in the end, talk is cheap.

tvozick said...

Hal, where did I say I am offended by democracy in action? Please don't put words in my mouth. And where did I say I want there to be private deals made to circumvent the law? You don't like "agreement among the parties", fine. Then let me say it would be good, in my opinion, if people would voluntarily agree to limit themselves to five minutes or 10 minutes or whatever seems right, thereby actually opening the door to more discussion by more citizens, some of whom leave meetings when they can't take it any more. I am not singling any one person out here, by the way - at the meeting I am referring to there were at least two, maybe three different individuals (whose names I do not know because everyone else seemed to know who they were because of their high profiles at such meetings, I gather) who I felt overdid their participation, to the detriment of others, and not by making new points. Just an observation, not a damning of democracy or a desire to see public comment squelched by government.

Democracy involves not only people stating their points; there should be discussion, and compromise, and decision-making too. Our elected officials damn well better read whatever is submitted for the record. Not because the town has witnessed the reading of a statement, but because it's their job. I don't think we gain anything by actually hearing it when in fact most people tune out.

And finally - and I think we won't solve this here either, so I don't want to dominate this topic - my observation also is that rushing to a vote is not our town's problem - filibuster, and an hesitance to commit to a course of action, is. Sometimes one has to take reasoned action after hearing what people think. It's not that I want them to spend more time voting, Hal, it's that I want them to get on with it. We have a lot of issues facing our town, and we need to keep moving. This blog, by the way, while not perfect, certainly can contribute to dialogue and perhaps consensus, as long as we focus on the issue at hand, not our grievances about everything else.

Tina Vozick

hal samis said...

Dear Ms Vozick
I have no problem whatever when you
are using blogspace (however many turns you take) to talk about only "voluntary" actions. If wishes were horse then bloggers too get their turn(s) at the mike.

TIP: Seasoned speakers at town meetings, wait toward the perceived end of the public comments. This allows them to speak more sagely. However this also meaans that there is plenty of opportunity to speak at the beginning -- and to leave thereafter -- if that is a speaker's intent.

Democracy is about constitutional freedoms AND allowing our elective officials to vote. There is nothing in Democracy that insures or argues for compromise. If you like the concept of compromise then be prepared to sit back while the Town Board takes the time to try to engineer this feat.

Open Meetings Laws are another thing and quite specific about the right to speak and for how long at PUBLIC HEARINGS. I am not talking about the portion of the Town Board meeting called Public Comment. There should be no agreements which would act to circumvent these laws.

When someone points a loaded gun at you, it is a reasonable inference that you are in danger.
Your indignation " putting words in my mouth" and "where did I say" are either argument-inviting or sophistry. When you talk about limiting speech, which is protected by law, you are clearly opposed to Democracy. Democracy is not a half-pregnant concept. You either embrace it in its entirety or you reject it. I argue for the rights of anyone to speak at length and without curbs; this right is a load-bearing building block. So, when people are willing to try to remove just one of these blocks, the entire structure can fall.

If you or the Town Board is getting sleepy, they can adjourn the meeting to a future date; they can try not to schedule several controversial topics on the same night. What they should not do is stifle public comment.

Fascism does not arrive with "a bang but with a whimper". There is no express service line for citizens who must leave because they are bored or are sleepy. "The price depends on what you pay." The price to maintain Democracy, unfortunately, is not a one-time payment for life membership. If you/me want to keep Democracy alive in Greenburgh it would be well to remember that "We are all bozos on this bus".

tvozick said...

Hal, you're baiting me and I'm not going to bite. There's a point when "democracy" turns into filibuster, and I'm not in favor of making it illegal, but that doesn't mean I think it's always productive. In the interests of consensus - I think we can agree that this blog is a good idea, as it allows people a voice. I'd prefer it if the voice was from people not with bags over their heads, as I said earlier or perhaps somewhere else on the blog, because we do not know if they are many unique individuals speaking up or only a few repeating their own points - but so be it.
Tina Vozick

hal samis said...

Dear Tina,

Your allegation of "baiting" is the escape of one who has no rebuttal.

Where or when is the "point" when democracy turns into filibuster?
Could you be a little more specific so I/readers know and can be on the lookout.

Is it 10 minutes, 30, an hour, two hours? When? If you want things more to your liking, we have to know what you like.

Please note following DISCLAIMER:
My problems with your assertions do not go away just because we may agree re blog. The blog has no controls or other authority over how PUBLIC HEARINGS are conducted which was our original point of disagreement. In chatting about how the blog operates I hope will not confuse anyone that we are in agreement re your PUBLIC HEARING views which are completely in opposition to mine. I still support unlimited free speech at PUBLIC HEARINGS (ok, you can't yell "fire") as desirable and having to listen to it is the price for tolerating democracy in practice.

Hie thee hither to your other blog topic entries but don't try to pretend we're on the same team.