Schenectady County

Schenectady Smart City panel to hold closed meetings

Mayor Gary McCarthy’s recently created Smart City Advisory Commission does not plan to have its meet
Schenectady's 'Smart City Advisory Commission,' chaired by Mark Little, will focus on incorporating technology into public safety and other services.
Schenectady's 'Smart City Advisory Commission,' chaired by Mark Little, will focus on incorporating technology into public safety and other services.

Mayor Gary McCarthy’s recently created Smart City Advisory Commission does not plan to have its meetings open to the public.

The eight-member commission met for the first time on Thursday, with chairman Mark Little indicating during the hour-and-a-half long meeting at Schenectady City Hall that the body would prefer to meet behind closed doors.

The commission is not required under the state Open Meetings Law to have open meetings, but that doesn’t mean its members cannot choose to do so.

Bob Freeman, director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said the mayoral commission does not have to open its meetings to the public because it’s simply an advisory body.

“An advisory body that does not perform a necessary function based upon law and is not a creation of law does not follow the Open Meetings Law,” he said. “It does not have the authority to make final and binding decisions. This is not to suggest that the body cannot hold open meetings.”

McCarthy signed an executive order creating the commission last week. He named Little, General Electric’s recently retired chief technology officer, as chairman. Little, a Niskayuna resident, was also head of GE Global Research.

The commission is tasked with making Schenectady a “smart city” by incorporating technology into public safety, health care, education and the delivery of services.

The technology and innovation recommended by the commission would in turn boost efficiency, cut costs and provide more information to the public, McCarthy said during a press conference announcing the commission on Jan. 11.

Little said at the end of Thursday’s meting that some meetings may be open to the public, but a majority would be closed meetings. He said that’s something the commission still has to determine.

McCarthy said he has not discussed the format of the meetings with Little, but agreed that the commissioners should probably discuss ideas among themselves before informing the public.

He said their meetings would include discussions about projects that may or may not happen, and that information is best kept behind closed doors until final plans are in place.

“It would be a more appropriate format to have some periodic updates, or when they’re actually making recommendations and seeking formal approval from the City Council,” he said. “I want them to have the ability to discuss things and analyze different scenarios that we may or may not actually pursue.”

The discussion during the commission’s first meeting Thursday afternoon in Room 110 at City Hall focused on the city’s current infrastructure and technology, the commission’s ultimate goals and immediate plans for the future.

Members of the commission include Transfinder CEO Antonio Civitella; Daily Gazette Publisher John DeAugustine; Proctors CEO Philip Morris; Theresa Pardo, director of the University at Albany’s Center for Technology in Government; Schenectady City School District Superintendent Larry Spring; and Tom Wilson, the head of TW&A, a construction management company in Schenectady.

DeAugustine said he believes the meetings should be open to the public and that he plans to lobby his commission colleagues on the issue.

It appears Little is initially looking to focus efforts on McCarthy’s push for LED lighting, security cameras and Wi-Fi across the city.

In October, Wink and Wise Labs installed LED lights on the first floor and in Room 110 of City Hall. Cisco also replaced six streetlights on Jay Street in front of City Hall that now have LED lights, webcams and Wi-Fi.

During the commission’s meeting, John Coluccio, the city’s signal superintendent, said the next phase is installing 36 of those high-tech streetlights on Union Street, between Broadway and Lafayette Street.

Then the streetlights would be targeted for State Street in downtown, between Nott Terrace and Lafayette Street, he said.

On Thursday, the commission agreed to meet every other Wednesday afternoon at City Hall.

One of the commission’s priorities mentioned during the press conference last week is keeping city residents informed and providing access to information that might not currently be available to them.

“Frequently advisory bodies seek public participation to enable them to come up with better suggestions,” Freeman said. “It may be in the public interest to do so.”

The Daily Gazette is hosting a forum on open government featuring Bob Freeman on Wednesday at Schenectady County Community College.

The event is free and open to the public. It will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Carl B. Taylor Auditorium.

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