Foss: Time to reopen City Hall in Schenectady


Here are some things I’ve done recently: 

– Picked up a prescription at a pharmacy. 

– Deposited money at the bank. 

– Bought groceries. 

– Purchased food at a local cafe. 

Now, you might be wondering why I’m reciting such a banal list of chores. And you’re right – these are boring, mundane tasks, barely worthy of mention. 

The only reason I mention them is because it wasn’t so very long ago that running errands required a heretofore unheard of level of planning due to pandemic-related guidelines. 

These days, getting stuff done doesn’t require nearly as much thought. 

More people are comfortable going out, thanks in part to the region’s highly successful vaccination efforts, and many COVID-19 restrictions have already been lifted or dramatically scaled back. 

However, there are exceptions – places that operate as if caught in a time warp where it’s always March 2020, everything’s locked down and nobody goes out unless they absolutely have to.  

Schenectady City Hall is one such place. 

Visit downtown Schenectady, and you’ll see a city very much coming back to life, with a slew of eateries offering indoor and outdoor dining, numerous businesses allowing in-store shopping and community hubs such as the public library welcoming patrons back inside. 

What you won’t see is a City Hall that’s any livelier than it was 14 months ago, when the pandemic’s deadly first wave hit New York. 

City Hall remains closed to walk-in business, though people can make appointments, and City Council meetings continue to be held remotely. 

And while some of this is understandable – the Capital Region experienced an alarming winter surge in COVID-19 related deaths and hospitalizations – some of it is not. 

Schenectady lacks a clear reopening plan for City Hall, and it’s something officials ought to rectify ASAP. 

This building is the heart of city government, the place where the people’s business is conducted. 

Shutting it down should be a short-term measure imposed during a time of crisis, not a semi-permanent condition with no end in sight. 

Especially concerning is the lack of urgency from city officials, who don’t seem to be in any particular hurry to restore public access to City Hall. 

When the subject arose this week, Mayor Gary McCarthy put the ball in the City Council’s court, saying members can reinstate in-person meetings if they wish; City Council President John Mootooveren said he was awaiting guidance from the mayor. 

The whole exchange ought to induce eye-rolling, in large part because putting together a plan for reopening City Hall just doesn’t seem that difficult. 

Other communities have either reopened or announced reopening plans, and Schenectady Public Health Services is available to provide whatever guidance or advice might be needed. 

Safety is key, and officials should take sensible precautions. 

Distancing and capacity limits might still be necessary at public meetings, at least for a while. 

But with more than half of Schenectady County residents at least partially vaccinated and New York’s COVID-19 positivity rate at its lowest point since November, the time is right for opening up. 

Right now, Schenectady residents can gamble at Rivers Casino and drink inside local bars, but they can’t step inside City Hall without an appointment. 

That’s wrong. 

City officials can, and should, make it right. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.



Categories: News, Opinion, Sara Foss, Schenectady County

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