Says committee meetings are best time for feedback
By Holly Crocco
Members of the Putnam County Legislature discussed Nov. 14 whether to allow public comment throughout its formal monthly meetings or only at the end, which is the current practice.
While some argued at the meeting of the Rules Committee that allowing comment only at the end was more efficient, others said the public should be allowed to speak on an item before a vote is taken, not after.
“I appreciate people’s overture,” said Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson), who chairs the legislature. “However, I don’t think they understand the fundamental difference between a town board and a legislature.”
She said a town board deals with local laws that the town has control over, but the county legislature is bound by state and federal mandates and so seeks input from department heads, outside agencies and other stakeholders.
For this reason, public comment is encouraged at the committee level, where those involved can answer questions and react to feedback before the topic goes before the full legislature, Nacerino said.
“If we have input at the full meetings pertaining to questions that perhaps we cannot answer at that particular time, it only retards the whole process because we’d have to table it back to a committee in order to do our fact-finding,” she said.
Audit & Administration (Nov. 28)
Budget & Finance
Economic Development & Energy
Health, Social, Educational & Environmental
Personnel (Nov. 22)
Protective Services (Nov. 22)
Rules, Enactments, & Intergovernmental Relations
Carl Albano (R-Carmel) expressed a similar view.
“We have many committee meetings to discuss these issues,” he said. “That’s really the time for the public to speak. That’s the time when questions should be answered. It’s a two-way conversation at that point.”
He added that the same principle applies to legislators; their questions should be asked at the committee level. “I wouldn’t support any changes, but I welcome public comment at any committee meeting,” said Albano.
Joseph Castellano (R-Southeast) said he resented suggestions by critics that the legislature operates behind closed doors. “This legislature has been more transparent than ever before,” he said. “What we’ve been doing, we’ve been doing it the right way.” He said that by the time an issue goes before the full legislature, it’s time to decide on the matter.
“This can’t be any more transparent than it is,” he said. “It’s a great system we have.”
Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) said residents would benefit from attending committee meetings.
“A lot of the time when people have comments at the full meeting, they are misinformed,” she said. “They do not have all the facts, and if we were to open up a discussion there it would make the meetings chaotic. And the few times we have opened it up, they have been chaotic.”
How to Get in Touch
When do legislature committees meet?
The legislature has eight committees that each meet once a month at the County Office Building, 40 Gleneida Ave., Carmel. The dates and times vary. See putnamcountyny.com/legi/legislative-calendar.
The full legislature meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse, 44 Gleneida Ave., Carmel.
How do I know what will be discussed?
Agendas and documents are typically posted online a few days before a scheduled meeting, and can be found at putnamcountyny.com/legi/agendas-backup.
What if I can’t make it to a meeting?
An audio recording of each meeting is posted online within a day or two, with written minutes added a few weeks later. The full legislature meetings are videotaped and posted on the legislature’s site. In addition, residents can submit written comments to email@example.com.
Who is my legislator?
Barbara Scuccimarra represents District 1, which covers Philipstown, Cold Spring, Garrison, Continental Village, Nelsonville and North Highlands and part of Putnam Valley. She can be reached at the email address above or through the legislative office at 845-808-1020.
While most if not all legislators attend the various committee meetings, Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) said that was not always the case. Rather, a committee discussed a topic and passed it along to the full legislature at its monthly meeting. During committee meetings, legislators often ask questions of department heads and consultants, but “when we go to the full, the public wants to address us.”
Albano said he thought it essential that legislators attend the meetings of committees other than those on which they serve.
“I feel it was a mistake when legislators didn’t go to committee meetings,” he said. “You can’t go to a full meeting and then at that point make a decision based on what you hear.” He added: “We’re willing to spend all the time it takes to get it to the point where we make a final vote, but once we’re there to make a final vote, we’re ready to act.”
Southeast Town Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt, a Democrat, said it is unfair to place the onus on residents to keep track of committee meetings, because they are not held on the same day each month, and starting times vary. Also, she said, residents may not know which committees handle which topics.
Fellow Southeast Town Councilwoman Elizabeth Hudak, a Republican, added: “You need to have more of the public be aware of these meetings.”
Nacerino asked who should raise awareness.
“Do we ask ourselves: Is it our fault?” she said. “Or is it incumbent upon those who are interested enough to do what is necessary to find and attend meetings?”
She also pointed out that residents can call or email legislators or the legislative office, or listen to meetings on the county website.
LoBue suggested making the website more user-friendly so residents can pull up the calendar and find agendas and background information.