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Public Comment? I'll Have Seconds

The Town Council recently added a second public comment session for the end of its meetings.

Residents attending Town Council meetings sometimes want to say something after actions are taken, only to have to wait until the public comment session at the next meeting. A recent change will give them a second bite of the apple.

Town Councilman Nick Kapoor's proposal to add a second public session to the tailend of the council's meetings passed by a vote of 5-4.

"This is an idea I brought forward to the Town Council as a non-member to have a second public session," Kapoor explained at Monday night's meeting. "This keeps government more open and allows the public to weigh in on Town Council actions without waiting until the next meeting and over the summer. It's at the disgretion of the chairman."

The change to the council's rules and procedures will allow a second public session lasting no longer than 20 minutes. The chairman may choose who gets to speak and no speaker can talk longer than three minutes. Discussion is limited to what happened at the meeting. This change does not apply to special meetings.

Not all Town Council members agreed with the change.

"We do allow public discussion at our meetings," J.P. Sredzinski said. "The public can see the agenda and comment to try to influence a vote and give us more information, present cases, opinions and views. We don't set a timer. We don't bang a gavel. I think it's okay the way it is. I appreciate your idea. I think it's great to have Town Council members with new ideas, but I don't think we need a change at this time."

Kapoor said in instances of a vote haven been taken on an appointee to a board or a commission, that person should be able to comment that same night.

"It's a good way to keep people involved," Kapoor said. "It keeps us more in tuned with what people are thinking. I highly recommend approving this."

Town Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin said she saw no drawback to it and Chairwoman Enid Lipeles also said she would be supporting it.

Town Councilwoman Debra Dutches said, "I guess my concern is if we take one vote or 10 votes in an evening and everyone in the audience has an opinion on it ... It belabors what we've done if it doesn't lend to the vote or more information. I'm just concerned with it."

Sredzinski said, "Most of my interaction with constituents is outside of the Town Council Chambers, not all in meetings. It's on the street, at Dunkin Donuts, emails, phone calls — the interaction is still there. I don't think this is going to benefit the council's input any by having a second public participation."

Martin replied, "If you don't see a benefit, do you see a harm? What would be the harm in doing it?"

Kapoor said, "There's nothing like having the first selectman and all of us sitting here. When it needs to happen, it's there. It benefits the public. They can speak."

Town Councilman Tony Unger said, "My concern is if we do this, it will create a big problem. If we already made a decision and if we re-look at it again, it will create more problems. It's better [to allow public comment] before we vote, not have it after, [where people can say], 'I don't like the way you voted.' There's nothing positive."

Kapoor said, "We should be open to hearing people who disagree with us. That's when our ears should perk up more."

Unger replied that the session should be about public participation and "not for us to defend our votes."

Town Councilman Frank Lieto said, "I agree with Mr. Unger. I think the harm would be causing people to violate our guidelines against personal complaints or defamatory comments."

Voting in favor of adding the second public session were Kapoor, Martin, Ray Knapp, Lipeles and Dutches. Voting against it were Sredzinski, Lieto, Unger and Town Council Vice Chairwoman Deborah Heim.

Jethro June 14, 2012 at 09:57 PM
It's amazing that anyone on town council would vote against this, The ones who were against this seem to have something in common with "the great and powerful Oz."
QWERTY June 14, 2012 at 11:42 PM
How much more is this going to cost me?
Truth and Justice June 15, 2012 at 01:36 AM
The passing of this legislation is in the best interest of truth and justice. Thank you to the 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans who voted in favor.
Gerald M. Gaynor June 15, 2012 at 10:17 AM
"Town Councilwoman Debra Dutches said, "I guess my concern is if we take one vote or 10 votes in an evening and everyone in the audience has an opinion on it ... It belabors what we've done if it doesn't lend to the vote or more information. I'm just concerned with it." What it does do is give our elected officials a better idea of what the people being impacted by, or presented with the bill, for what you are proposing think about any given issue.
Citizen June 15, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Wouldn't it make more sense for the council to ask for input after they discuss a motion but before they vote on it? Then they would know how people felt about the issue before casting their vote. It seems that they don't really care what the people think which is a shame since they are supposed to be representing us. I agree that listening to this input after the vote is worthless.
Steve Kirsch June 15, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Council member Dutches made the point that during her time as Chair of the BOE, she did allow the public to make comments and ask questions during the Board’s discussions of major issues. However, from where I sat, nobody on the Town Council seemed in any way interested in such an idea. People should keep in mind that what this second public participation does is simply provide immediate feed back. People no longer have to wait two weeks (or more in the summer) in order to come to the next meeting to express their feelings. I would also point out that people can comment on more than just a vote taken by the Council during their meeting. We will now be able to comment about statements made during the meeting, issues pushed off until the next meeting, issues that the Council may choose to put on the next meeting agenda, or on assigned “work items” to be handled outside of the meeting, etc. I think this was a good idea and I’m glad that a majority of the council agreed.
Joey June 15, 2012 at 02:20 PM
There was no reason to disagree with this. The no voters on the council are just power hungry and don't care what the people think. Luckily for the town, a majority did agree. It is good that Patch is reporting on these issues so the public can see the true colors of the people they elect.
Donna Gail June 15, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I think the council members who voted against this are exxagerating the possible problems of the 2nd public participation. I don't believe most people will abuse it. There may be a few regulars who talk too much, and that's why the time restrictions should be enforced consistently for both public participations. I love Mr. Kapoor's comment: "We should be open to hearing people who disagree with us. That's when our ears should perk up more." By contrast, Mr. Lieto is worried about 'personal complaints and defamatory comments.' (Deal with it!)
Citizen June 15, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Commenting on a vote after it has been taken is useless. I would prefer the council members to know what I was thinking about an issue BEFORE they cast their vote.
Jethro June 15, 2012 at 04:43 PM
The ones who were against this need to put on a pair of big boy undies. Hilarious that they ran for office but can't handle the criticism that comes with it. People dare ask questions and make statements in front of the mighty council. Outrageous!
a resident June 15, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Spoken like a true DTC politico Joey. Thank you.
a resident June 15, 2012 at 05:21 PM
More political babble Jethro. Useless.
a resident June 15, 2012 at 05:23 PM
The Patch is only hosting a blog that spreads political b.s.! You are no better than the ones you criticize.
monroe taxpayer June 15, 2012 at 05:29 PM
What ever is said most likely will be ignored or dismissed.. What needs to be done is a mechanism to poll ALL residents on how they feel on ALL important issues. It's time we hear from the silent majority of residents, not just a very vocal minority. The welfare of this town should not be about who can make the most noise. The real concern should be for true representation.of the true majority of it's residents. Or would is that just to factual and frightening for all the political special interests?
Nick Kapoor June 15, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Monroe Taxpayer, I know that whatever I hear during a meeting whether it be during public participation, old business or new business, I do not ignore or dismiss. Polling all residents on how they feel on all important issues is why residents elect representatives for them. The only way to truly know how all residents feel about an issue is through an official referendum of the town and we have that mechanism in our charter as well as the budget referendum and of course Election Day every year. Furthermore, every Town Councilperson has a town email address that can be found here (http://monroect.org/TownCouncil.aspx), my personal email is kapoorn555@gmail.com. Also, every Town Council meeting is open to the public and has public participation (2 OF THEM!). I, personally, would love to see the Council Chambers busting at the seams with people during our meetings, but that usually doesn't happen. I wholeheartedly agree with you that the welfare of monroe should not be about who can make the most noise. There are many ways for every resident of the Town to get in touch with their elected officials and make their opinions heard through the press, to their elected officials or most importantly at public participations through the various boards and commissions.
Jethro June 15, 2012 at 07:16 PM
@ a resident - political babble? Hmmm. Seems anytime the farse selectman or the republican majority are criticized you and your merry gang of followers get hurt feelings. Are we not allowed to criticize town government because it hurts the feelings of the power players in town ? Should the news not be reported?
a resident June 15, 2012 at 07:25 PM
You are not reporting or responding to news, you are being devisive and spreading lies as a member of the democratic minority, which being the minority is a bug in your bonnet. That is why you behave so. Could you be more shallow and obvious. Poor you.
Jethro June 15, 2012 at 07:51 PM
@ a resident - commenting on town government is spreading lies? Sounds like you favor a Big Brother 1984 type of government. Only democrats are unhappy with monroe's elected officials? Really? Anyone who criticizes town government is a democrat or spreading lies? Wow.
Barney June 16, 2012 at 12:30 AM
This town council needs to stand for mr. Vavrek. He understands this here be a farming community. These liberal hippies have no right to take second questions. I bet ya those coming for second questions are education lovers. Mr. Vavrek tell me how dangerous they be. It not be normal to support hippie questions. I stand with mr. vavrek. Mr. vavrek told me there be too many interlopers here in town. Not sure what that means but i know mr. vavrek be right. Stand with me behind mr. vavrek.

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