Thursday, June 21, 2007

TOWN BD SHOULD AMEND RULES TO ALLOW RESIDENTS TO SPEAK AT WORK SESSIONS

At the last Town Board work session, some members of the Board refused to let citizens in attendance speak at the work session.
I would like to see the rules amended so that citizens who take the time to attend Board work sessions can participate, ask question, express their views.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

What was the reason for denying an opportunity to speak?

Anonymous said...

Sheehan will never allow this. His iron-fisted control over Greenburgh would be threatened. Sheehan is not very quick minded, he is the slow, methodical type who needs hours to study simple concepts. He would not like to be suprised by issues from citizens at work sessions.

Paul, what you should do is insist that all work sessions be televised. The more people see The Bully in action, the easier it will be to defeat him in two years.

Anonymous said...

I have contempt for the Town Council, but I disagree with Feiner on this one. The Town Board has to be able to work without endless speaking by those who get their regular thrill from lecturing the Town Board and everybody else.

Now how do you get the Town Council to stop fighting and do some work?

Anonymous said...

I agree. Broadcast the work sessions. Government in action...... at its worst.

If more citizens saw this foolishness and how a certain non-elected member of one community was pulling the strings of the majority of the Town Board, people would be very discouraged.

Let’s see what three votes will go for this. My guess, Sir Francis and Bobby B. say no, so the rest of the three little dwarfs will whistle along in unison.

Anonymous said...

Paul ,try to amend the law about residents speaking at work sessions. It will be tough since Sheehan runs Greenburgh together with some of his cronies in Edgemont. The only thing that you could do is try. If you do not succeed at this try to have the meetings televised this way residents could see what's happening with our town.,under the reign of Sheehan.,behind closed doors.

Anonymous said...

After reading the agenda for the next town board meeting, I have a question. Why would the Town allow the Police Lt's, sargents and detectives work for lower pay on certain overtime details ? This should only be worked by regular patrolman. sounds like they want to pad thier salary for retirement.

Anonymous said...

oh!oh!Is the police dept going the same route as the city of New york and the correction officers who padded their overtime, and received pensions above the amount by 100%.Naughty, naughty, Knowing The way Sheehan thinks the police dept. will get their way.

Anonymous said...

Bet ya that you'll see some of the council members who fought against open government during the past two years change their ways now that they are in for the fight of their life in September. The public has caught on.

hal samis said...

Things to do:

1) Allow residents to speak at Work sessions. There aren't that many in attendance anyway. In a less formal environment, useful information can be exchanged.

2) The Agenda format for Special Town Board Meetings should be similar to regular Town Board Meetings. There should be Public Comment as part of this meeting, just like at regular meetings. Perhaps this would cut down the number of these Special meetings which are generally held under the Public's radar or accessibility.

3) Work sessions, Special Town Board meetings, Planning Board work sessions, Zoning Board of Appeals back conference room sessions...they should all be televised. If they are open to the Public, there should be no penalty because a resident is unable to physically attend. As for the Zoning Board live broadcasts, when the members go into the back room for discussion, viewers at home have no idea how long these discussions will take and are left with a camera shot of an empty room. Were the back room discussions being broadcast, not only would this be of interest, it would also assure the at-home public that they are indeed coming back with their decision and approximately when.

4) Library Board of Trustees meetings should be televised as well. The Library gets its operating funds from the Town and these meetings should be aired and recorded.

5) Certain classes of Town documents should not require FOIL requests. Files of Applications before the Planning and Zoning Boards, for example, should be immediately obtainable and available for viewing. These files often contain time sensitive material relevant to approaching Public Hearings on applications and the FOIL process itself can be time consuming.

6) Copies of Resolutions, local laws and amendments, budget transfers, settlements and all other evening Agenda items should be available to the Public well in advance of Public Comment. Whatever staffing or expense to insure this should be commited. These items should not be classified as requiring FOIL request. Copies of Town Laws, NYS Town Law and Town Zoning Code etc. should be maintained behind the reception desk and available to citizens during Town meetings in exchange for surrendering a driver's license as security.

7) The sound system in the Town Hall meeting room MUST be corrected IMMEDIATELY. The problem apparently is not related to broadcast transmission but limited to the confines of the meeting room. The problem arises not only from the microphone at the podium but also from the microphones on the dais. This problem has been ongoing for 3 years and has to be rectified now at whatever cost is necessary.

8) The door connecting the Town Hall Lobby and the Meeting Room should have a rubber stopper attached so that it does not continue to slam loudly each time it swings shut.

9) Since Town Department Heads are "encouraged" to attend Town Board Meetings so that they are available for comment or to answer questions, they should be seated in the front rows so that their attention to the discussions is assured so that they will be closer to the microphone and thus arrive sooner and, so that they will not disrupt the meeting with their continuing intrusive conversations amongst themselves, something they can only get away with when they are hiding in the back of the room.

10) The Town Board meeting should be run fairly, consistently and all of the Town Board's rules should be followed. Furthermore, the Town Board should set the standard for leadership, decorum and conformity with regard to its own rules.

11) The Town Attorney/Parliamentarian should be more involved in the meeting and not hope he won't be called upon to issue an opinion. When he observes a violation of Meeting Rules, he should interrupt whatever is going on to bring the violation to the forefront -- be it a problem created by the Public or a problem created by the Town Board.

12) In the interest of saving time, one member of the Town Board is sufficient to summarize the position of the majority vote and one member of the Town Board is sufficient to summarize the position of the minority, if such exists. Passing any matter is not the license for all five Town Board members to have opportunity time to make a speech.

As an addendum to saving time, the meeting should begin as advertised and not the typical 15 minutes later. Those who make the effort to comply with the posted start time are being abused by those who do not make the effort. All of us have lives and other things to do, especially after our day jobs end.

And when a 5 minute recess is called, this means 5 minutes not 25. If there is a need to take 25 minutes, then the Public is entitled to know that the meeting will resume in 25 minutes and can plan accordingly.

13) Public Hearings are for the Public to make comments. The Town Board has had ample time to register its position and ask its questions. That is what is done at the Work Session and by conferences. When the Public Hearing is opened for discussion, there should be a presenter of the issue (town employee or otherwise) and one member of the Town Board to summarize the position(s) of the Town Board for the transcript. This person should be fair and state any differences that may exist among Board members.

14) If the Public asks questions during Public Comment, especially if they concern Agenda items to be voted upon that evening, the Town Board must make a sincere effort to have those questions answered, either by themselves or by an appropriate Department Head. If the question is deemed relevant by the Town Board and it cannot be answered, then the Agenda item should automatically be held over or a recess should be called to obtain the answer, or the Public should be invited back to the Podium when the answer is obtained but before the matter is voted upon.

15) When the Public asks a question of the Town Board, the Town Board will attempt to have it answered to the best of its ability. Following this response, the member of the Public will have an opportunity to respond. The time allowed for this response shall be limited to the length of the Town Board response or one minute, whichever is the greater time. The Public will be allowed to remain at the Podium while awaiting an answer.



The concept of open government is not one limited only to the Public's right to know what is going on but also to allow the Public to participate in implementing policy alongside the paid, elected officials. It is well documented that the Town Board is not the sole respository of wisdom, nor are they expected to be such. As the broad based Public contains residents with an extensive range of work and professional experience, they should be regarded as a precious resource not as the enemy. The Public is often able to assist the members of the Town Board in selecting not only an appropriate course of action but also in choosing the MOST appropriate course of action. The problems encountered in opening up government to concerned citizens may be many but on balance the benefits accrued from such a joining of forces more often than not offsets the problems. As a result the community, as a whole, is the beneficiary of this merging of thought and the government that allows this to nurture is the government that has fewer problems to deal with arising in the aftermath of hastily conceived solutions.

If the Town Board would heed the sentiments of Sy Syms, "an educated citizen is the Town's best citizen", not only the Town but the Town Board would benefit.
To "grow" a crop of educated citizenry, the Town Board must make a good faith investment in a process which allows the open and speedy exchange of information to its citizens. And open government need not be restricted to open meetings laws and FOIL laws which are the creations of other governments; Greenburgh can advance these concepts by not only tolerating but encouraging its citizens to participate via the mechanism of dialogue which can evolve from Public Comment. When residents realize that even the lowest citizen in stature receives the same respect as the highest in stature, they will not be wary of participating in the process. It is only from nurturing such a free exchange of information that Greenburgh can truly be a great place to live.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the police lieutenants, Detectives and Sargents work for the lower pay all the time?

Jim Lasser said...

There is no reason to amend the rules about the public speaking at work sessions. Simply hold a regular session - but hold it at the time usually reserved for a work session.
In fact, according to the NYS Committee on Open Government, there is absolutely no difference between regualr public sessions and work sessions EXCEPT the internal Board rules adopted by the Board for the conduct of the meeting.
Public notice requirements are the same.
Minutes are required for both.
A quorum is necessary for the conduct of business.
A public vote is required to adopt a resolution.
Why complicate matters? Unless someone can explain why a regular public session is not the best and most appropriate way to conduct business, simply hold a regular meeting.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I ususally agree with you but not this time. The reason we need formal work sessions is that state law requires they be open to the public. That means the public can listen. If we allow the public to comment, the meetings will go on forever, and nothing will get done.

Anonymous said...

I agree with blogger 4:35. The Town Board has to be able to work without the public having the right to speak and make the work session endless. But that doesn't mean that the public cannot speak if invited to do so by the Town Board. There are many things that the Board discusses which may profit from comments by a resident who comes with knowledge. It should be up to the Board, but the Board should be liberal and open-minded about allowing the public to speak, and do it without fearing that if they allow one person then they have to allow everbody.

Jim Lasser said...

Dear 4:35 -
According to the Committee on Open Government the distinction between a "work session" and a regular session is an artificial construct. They point out that many people think "public meeting" means members of the public have a right to speak. They do not. The United States Senate and the House of Representatives hold public meetings - but you have never seen a member of the public address the either body except by invitation. A public meeting is a meeting held openly and accessible to the public. The chair of the meeting conducts the session according the the rules, which may or may not include an opportunity for the public to address comments to the meeting. Once again, the professional politicians are intent on demonstrating their amateur status as lawmakers and public servants.
Please members of the Greenburgh Town Board and Town Supervisor, take a moment and learn what it is you are charged by law and bound by your oaths of office to do, then do it.

hal samis said...

Dear Jim,

Spoken like one who does not attend Town Board meetings.

However you did make a point when you pointed out that there is no provision for a Special Town Board Meeting which is anything different from a Town Board Meeting. Thus, the sections of the Agenda should be the same.

For those who don't understand, there is a third get together called a Town Board Work Session which is held on Tuesday afternoons. It is this meeting that Feiner's blog topic concerns.

Anonymous said...

The town council should be for the people and listen to the people. Bass, Barnes, Juettner and Sheehan forget how they got elected.

Jim Lasser said...

Dear Hal -
Perhaps I should have extended my comments a bit further. I strongly believe that the time has come to hold Public Hearings separate and apart from Town Board Meetings. As the Town pursues more complicated topics more time needs to be devoted to public hearings and the current practice no longer works as well as it once did.
I propose the Town schedule public hearings on the Wednesdays when it does not hold a regular Town Board meeting.
I further suggest these hearings be scheduled in two sittings - one scheduled to begin at 1PM and adjourn at 5PM; the second to begin promptly at 7PM and scheduled to adjourn at 11PM.
Interested parties should be permitted to speak without interuption for some pre-specified period of time. The public should have access at least 72 hours before the meeting to the same materials which are distributed to the Town Board as background. These materials should be published on the Town's web site along with the complete agenda of the meeting. Finally, Public Hearings should be carried on both Cablevision and Verizon's public access channels as well as on the Town's nascient webcam site. Both "dial-in" and e-mail comments should be permitted.
I am well aware of the fact that these suggestions would significantly alter the way the Town has traditionally held Public Hearings. As the current process is making everyone unhappy, a new process is called for.

hal samis said...

Dear Jim,

The idea is sound; the execution is not.

The Wednesdays when there is no Town Board Meeting are the Wednesdays that the Planning Board meets -- both are held in the same room, both need broadcast facilities.

The possibility of the Town finding a second location with an equally bad sound system are nil.

The other problem is that with part-time and otherwise employed Town Council members, who on the Town Board would be able to attend?

Herb Rosenberg said...

It is good to read intelligent comments by two serious people. If Feiner deleted the "Anonymous" link prhaps we would get more intelligent comments and less of the hyporbolic slanders.

Jim Lasser said...

Dear Hal -
Let me respond to you earlier posting by considering the points in reverse order.
I agree with you that our Councilpersons are part-timers. But I also agree with your numerous previous posts. "It takes only three" clearly implies that if even the part-timers expend the necessary energy, many of the issues the Town faces could be ameliorated. If the part-timers can't put in enough time to govern properly by performing their sworn duties, you must then agree we need to change the form of government. What do you propose?
A strong Supervisor and weak council is the formula which landed us in this mess. A strong council and weak Supervisor seems to be the government du jour, and that is apparently equally dysfunctional - in part because, as you point out, the council members are not available to govern full-time. Can it be that we are moving towards a common recognition that, given the change in the nature of the community, we require professional, full-time management? The other choices appear to be continuing chaos or the coronation of an imperial leader. Personally I cannot support a dictatorship, no matter how benign.
You point out the "other" Wednesdays are already in use. True, but not really a deterent. It might be useful for the Town Board to meet on another day so that citizens with regular Wednesday night bowling leagues, Board of Education meetings or faith-based activities might be able to participate as well.
I don't see the sound system and broadcast location as being much of an issue either - I'm sure someone has an old carbon mike and blown-out guitar amplifier the Town can set up in a locker room at Veteran Park - and the proliferation of internet-capable cellphones will insure the broadcast quality of meetings will remain unchanged.
Finally, if the idea is good but the execution is poor, does that mean there is no hope? Lack of ability to execute a good idea suggests we have the wrong folks attempting the task. That suggests we need to make some changes - I've made my suggestion, what's yours?

Anonymous said...

Paul I do think that you owe Ellen an apoloogy, even if she is good friends with Sheehan. At town hall meeeetings she has been above board with many of the town issues. She is a perfect lady and deserves to be treated that way. She is not like some other ladies who demand things for their own benefit. When ever she makes a request is always seems to go unanswered,but with the others there always seems to be a sweet answer. She really works for the betterment of the whole town of Greenburgh.Paul this is something that you should do, especially since some one said that you never say that you made a mistake.

hal samis said...

Dear Jim,

My suggestion is:

Reinvent the Sex Pistols.
Bring back The Clash.
Reunite Country Joe and the Fish.

This is the concert we need to hear in Hartsdale --- and everywhere.

Anonymous said...

And free the Intel 486?

Jim Lasser said...

Dear Hal -
Your suggestions are wonderful, just not responsive to my challenge.
I'm disappointed you haven't responded with a constructive suggestion for improving the government in Greenburgh. Can I (finally) claim a point in our verbal tennis match?

hal samis said...

Dear Jim,
not to be fatuous (while putting on weight as well) but I once wrote the Stephen Stills lyrics:
"Love the one you're with"

The Town faces an election in just a little over four months. It is too late to turn Feiner in for this year's model, Suzanne Berger who has no mileage on the odometer and I don't trust her chauffer, Bob Bernstein. Neither do I discount my rumor that she is just the page holder for either Bass or Sheehan who could ascend to the throne were she to resign during her first term of office. Thus, in the world outside of this blog, voters are reasonably content with garbage pick-up, leaf collection and snow removal and nothing else counts.

What I do suggest is increasing the term of the Supervisor from two to four years (like the term of the Town Council) so that the Supervisor doesn't have to start running simultaneous with his swearing in. Likewise, a four year term might attract a serious newcomer who would have some time to ease into the job before experiencing the need to run again in just two years.

As for the Town Council, the two incumbents, Bass and Barnes, are coincidentally incompetent as well. I like to think that my comments have given recent rise to words emerging from the mouths of Barnes and Juettner who have probably spoken more on camera in the last two months than they have in all their prior terms combined. But we should get rid of Bass and Barnes because...they just haven't worked out. The concerns that their replacements, Morgan and Brown are Feiner's team has no weight when taken in the context of an existing Town Council which already votes almost exactly the same as Feiner, so what's the big deal? What should be done regarding the position of Town Council is that every year, one member should be up for a four year term. This should dispell the myth of a team running together and representing 2 of 3 votes necessary to pass motions while at the same time maintaining continuity and increase the chances for a non-Deomcrat candidate to appear. "can't run this year but could next year"

What you are really angling for is support for your premise that the Town deserves a professional Town Manager. However, as good as this may look on paper, the reality of hiring, retaining and affording a good manager (and there are rotten apples bearing this title also) makes the success of connecting the first time out, a low degree of certainty. Then too "professional" professional managers, in small supply, are constantly being bid for and lured away from their current jobs for even bigger bucks. When you deal with a hired vs elected gun, you enter the world of head hunters and hiring bonuses -- only to lose the candidate to a nicer climate, bigger bucks, better school system for his/her kids etc. Witness the longevity of nearby Ossining's short stay professional manager.

Furthermore, without knowing NYS Town law, I suspect that you may still have to retain an elected Town Supervisor and elected Town Council members at an additional cost. Whereas the Villages operate, in part, with volunteers, I think a Town would still have to retain some of the old titles and a Town of this size, geography and varying demographics probably more of the hours and dedication than volunteer service attracts.

Long term, I think the format of our government is correct. What is needed is to attract high caliber office seekers. How to do that I don't have a clue but perhaps one day some Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or even Donald Trump apprentice will retire and decide to spend his early retirement in local, public office.

Two sets to go, service out.