Letter: Open Up Comments

The Cold Spring Board of Trustees draws too strict a boundary between ourselves and the rest of Philipstown, refusing to hear the input at public meetings from our neighbors who don’t live in the village.

The board views them as “outsiders,” but these are people who in some cases live just a few streets away, whose children attend Haldane and who walk to Main Street after school to see their friends, go to the Country Goose for candy and ride their bikes on side streets. Others are business owners, town residents who come into the village to grab a coffee, go to the grocery store, to work or simply to walk.

How can we say these families are not a part of the village? We need to think in terms of unity with Philipstown, not in terms of outsiders and residents. People who frequently come to the village want to invest in it and share their ideas. We are one town and we already share resources; we should be sharing and respecting one another’s voices as well.

I have proposed to my fellow trustees that we amend public comment rules so that Philipstown residents can be heard during Village Board meetings and no one is required to give their full address if they are not comfortable doing so. We are all part of one town and we should listen and learn from one another.

Heidi Bender, Cold Spring
Bender is a village trustee.

5 thoughts on “Letter: Open Up Comments

  1. This should be voted for as one of the top 10 bad ideas of 2021. The village trustees are elected by the people who live in the village. They represent the voters of the village. This is the way democracy works. To even suggest that people who do not reside and live, pay taxes and vote is insane thinking.

    Village meetings should be for village people only. To open up the meetings to non-residents would lead down a road of confusion and create a carnival atmosphere at village meetings. Leaving the door open for special interest and outside agitators to disrupt proceedings. The business of government is hard enough to do as it is. I for one would not want people who do not live and vote here involved in making decisions as to how our village is run.

    While we are on the subject of meetings, I would like ask that there be more transparency to meetings in the way of recording meetings and make it available for people to access. This was something that was done in the past but due to current events has fallen by the wayside.

  2. Trustee Bender, I respectfully disagree, unless you intend to dissolve the “village” status itself, along with my village taxes and my right to vote who is mayor and/or trustees. As a board member, it is inherent you represent a select/specific group. In addition to being an elected (albeit you ran unopposed, hence the collective recognition of the difficulty and general thanklessness of such a volunteer position) member of a group with selective interests, you are also co-owner of a lovely and popular village shop. You must get all kinds of customers offering suggestions/complaints that may very well be for “the village.”

    That info goes to the Chamber of Commerce, which as a business owner, I would reasonable guess you have strong vested interest. Hence your odd and premature endorsement “seems doable” response to the chamber’s request for $20,000 for public bathroom maintenance versus “thank you for this research and information, the board (that’s all the members of the selected club, even the ones you don’t like) will take this into review.” Are you stating, “Those outsiders who spend money here” is akin to consumer money spent = residential equality?

    As “a came here from New York City seven years ago,” I do see the baked in conflicted tendency of a local tourism love/hate dynamic. I can relate on a small level, as I believed the “bridges and tunnel” crowds chased me out of my “cool” neighborhoods on the weekends. Believe me, ask anyone in the West Village or Fort Greene how much they want “outsiders” aka non-residents, to have open mic night at local government meetings and the response would be a loud and mighty “Not at all.”

    We disagree, and we can have good faith discussion and debate. I do not participate nor encourage personal attacks on our public servants.

  3. It is disheartening that instead of working with her fellow Village Board members, new Trustee Bender chose instead to go to the paper to accuse them of bias in excluding others from participating in the process of a public hearing.

    She ascribes to all of them a bias against “outsiders.” It is ironic that she sees the solution here for them is to “listen and learn” from those outside the Village when she herself has not done the same with her fellow board members. They could have discussed/arrived at consensus on their reasoning on how this particular public hearing would be conducted, including public comment as well as the need for self-identification at a hearing to confirm if the speaker is a member of the local body politic, the folks you were elected to represent.

    So the mayor and Trustee Foley’s actions at this public hearing were in fact not evidence of bias but rather their efforts toward the faithful execution of our laws in conducting a public hearing that they felt was proper and therefore the outcomes/actions defensible. If the board takes public comment, it is reasonable for us to assume that comment is taken into consideration when they take action. If the board majority feels it is strictly a village issue then, in my opinion, it is best to only take comment from residents. And yes, a boundary of single street here and there is exactly what defines the governing of the Village of Cold Spring. It determines who can vote in village elections, who can represent us in village government and how public comment on circumscribed local matters like village police reform might be best handled. This is not the school board or the Chamber of Commerce, it is the village governing body under state municipal home rule law. If there are ways to increase public participation at hearings I am certain that this Village Board would be open to looking at them. But they need to first be vetted and brought to the board for open discussion/consideration. A good resource for conducting public hearings is the NY DOS Committee on Open Government at https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog.

    Francisco is the chair of the Cold Spring Planning Board.

  4. In trying to understand just what is at issue here, let me simply indicate that even with my ignorance of the details I am not a big fan of censorship of any kind. However, board meetings may have some time constraints, and in any case the board (and everyone else) needs to know a person’s residency status so that this may be taken into consideration in evaluating their comment.

    At this point it is not clear to me if Trustee Bender’s request was in reference to, or prompted by, a specific board meeting on a specific topic, or if it is a general concern. Undoubtedly this is due to the fact that I have not listened into the meeting where the issue was raised.

    In my experience, anyone may comment on just about any issue related to village governance, or to village life in general, for example, at one or both of our local newspapers/news organizations. Generally speaking these news organizations are quite eager for and accommodating to interesting opinions and new viewpoints. To be sure, making the effort to collect and organize one’s thoughts and then to compose a compelling written statement can be a challenge, but ultimately it’s rewarding as one’s communication skills and credibility thereby develop.

    I am concerned that any fear or paranoia may exist, if it’s necessary to give address to confirm residency. That would be a shame.