SCHENECTADY — After 15 months of virtual City Council and committee meetings, the Public Safety Committee is eyeing July 6 for a return to in-person council meetings.
In March 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order suspending certain aspects of the Open Meeting Law relative to in-person attendance.
The council has since been meeting virtually at 5:30 p.m., rather than its usual 7 p.m. starting time.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic receding, officials are looking scheduling the return of in-person meetings.
In seeking to move back to in-person meetings, Council President John Mootooveren asked for the larger Room 209 in City Hall to be outfitted for future in-person meetings. Mootooveren’s request to outfit Room 209 requires the city to modify the seating, sound system, and video transmissions and recordings, according to Mayor Gary McCarthy.
McCarthy told the committee the city could accommodate that request by July 6.
The committee also called for a public hearing about an earlier starting time for meetings. Many members of the council said they liked the earlier start time during the pandemic.
However, maintaining the earlier time would require a change to city code.
The code dictates that regular City Council meetings occur in City Hall’s Council Chambers or Room 110 at 7 p.m. the second and fourth Mondays of each month, unless otherwise posted by public notice. City Council committee meetings take place the first and third Mondays of each month at 5:30 p.m. in Room 110 of City Hall.
Councilmembers Carmel Patrick, Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, and John Polimeni said they preferred to remain with a 5:30 p.m. start, while Councilwoman Marion Porterfield suggested that it might be too early to accommodate public participation.
“I think that’s worked out for us; I think it will work out for residents,” Patrick said of starting at 5:30 p.m., later adding that latecomers could take advantage of the various introductory actions by the council before it gets to the point in the meeting when residents are allowed to speak.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said the earlier start would allow more people to speak, while the meetings wouldn’t run as late into the evening.
Porterfield said starting at 5:30 p.m. might work well for the council, but she asked for consideration for a start time of 6 or 6:30. She said people who get out of work at 5 p.m., perhaps commuting from Albany, would be challenged to make it in time or speak during the floor portion of the meeting.
Polimeni said he agreed with moving meetings to Room 209, which is used for daytime court operations, because it yields “more working space” for council meetings.
Polimeni said the residents who have talked to him about the matter also prefer starting at 5:30 p.m., although he conceded he’d received minimal feedback.
“I also think it’s better for the staff,” he said. “We still need to clean things down. And if our meetings run late, it’s a little bit more difficult on staff, considering that the court has [Room] 209 the next day, and they would have to have that cleaned up in time for the court operations.”
The committee advanced Zalewski-Wildzunas’s motion calling for the hearing to get feedback from constituents on what the best timeframe would be for them, followed by a discussion by the council.
McCarthy asked the officials to consider another request regarding a change to City Hall’s operating hours.
City Hall has been open by appointment-only, operating under summer hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the pandemic.
Non-summer hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m..
McCarthy said “the consensus of staff is that 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. is the best configuration” for working hours year-round, and he asked the council to formally make the change.
The committee took no action on the mayor’s request.