Schenectady County

Schenectady to stop locking public out of City Hall

It appears all of the doors to City Hall are locked at night, even when public meetings are happenin
City Hall hours of operation, posted at every entrance to the building, were taken down Thursday afternoon.
City Hall hours of operation, posted at every entrance to the building, were taken down Thursday afternoon.

Don’t show up late to a meeting at Schenectady City Hall. You might get locked out.

It appears all of the doors to City Hall are locked at night, even when public meetings are happening inside. In the past couple of months, two Gazette employees have been locked out mid-meeting.

“For safety and security reasons, the building will be locked promptly at 5:10 p.m., will re-open 20 minutes prior to any night meetings, and will be re-locked once the meeting begins. You are able to exit at any time.”

That’s what a sign says on the side doors of City Hall. The sign provides a cellphone number for people trying to access the building after business hours. It is unclear whose number it is.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, says the city’s policy violates the Open Meetings Law. At least one door should be unlocked, he said.

“The law says that meetings are open to the general public,” Freeman said. “That means even if someone arrives 10 minutes late or 30 minutes late. There are a number of possibilities for getting there late. Having to call someone is unreasonable and unnecessary. What if you don’t have a cellphone? There are many instances where I don’t carry a cellphone.”

During a City Council meeting Monday evening, a Gazette photographer attempted to enter City Hall toward the end of the meeting, but found that every door was locked.

Also on Nov. 24, a Gazette reporter left a City Council meeting to cover the homicide of Jose Sanchez on Bridge Street. After returning from the scene, the council meeting was still in session, but all of the doors were locked.

“My assumption is that people will be angry if they are locked out,” Freeman said. “Somebody could bring a lawsuit, which would result in a finding that the city failed to comply with the Open Meetings Law. Not every meeting starts at the same time, and most of them start after 5:10 p.m.”

City Clerk Chuck Thorne said he believes the signs have been up for a year or two. The doors are locked at night following building security issues, he said. He did not specify what those issues were.

“That was the decision that was made,” he said. “I remember something happening, but I don’t remember what is was. They decided the building should be locked.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy was unaware of the signs on the side doors. He said the front door should be open, along with the side door on Franklin Street, which is handicap accessible, when meetings are held in the evening.

“I don’t fully control City Council meetings, but I’m told access to the front door and the door off of Franklin Street should be open until the close of the meetings or close to it,” he said.

Like Thorne, McCarthy said there were security issues at City Hall in the past, such as people who shouldn’t be there at night. McCarthy said he plans to take down the signs and keep the doors unlocked.

“We will correct this and have the building open,” he said. “I had thought the doors were unlocked. The signs are coming down.”

According to the Open Meetings Law, “Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the general public, except that an executive session of such body may be called and business transacted. … Public bodies shall make or cause to be made all reasonable efforts to ensure that meetings are held in an appropriate facility which can adequately accommodate members of the public who wish to attend such meetings.”

Freeman said locking the doors to City Hall and putting up signs with a cellphone number makes public meetings secret.

“The rules have to be reasonable, and this practice that has been developed flies in the face of the Open Meetings Law,” he said. “This should be altered to ensure members of the public have unrestricted access to a meeting.”

Categories: News

Leave a Reply