SCHENECTADY – A proposal to start City Council meetings at 5:30 p.m., 90 minutes earlier than what’s dictated in city code, would either hinder public participation, or help professionals who want to attend meetings right after their workdays end, according to a public hearing on the matter this week.
After hearing from five people via email, and three in person Monday, the council will likely discuss the public hearing during a committee meeting on July 19.
If the proposal to change the city code passes there, the new legislation would be on the council’s July 26 agenda.
If it does not pass out of committee, there will be no change to the start time.
The council proposed the earlier start as it met for 15 months virtually during the pandemic at 5:30 instead of its regular 7 p.m. start.
In March 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order suspending certain aspects of the Open Meeting Law relative to in-person attendance.
During the public hearing, Carl Williams, who earned the nod in last month’s Democratic primary to vie for one of two vacated council seats in November’s election, urged the council to keep the start time at 7.
Williams, who followed Cynthia Farmer in opposing the change, said the earlier start “directly infringes on some of our community member’s ability to attend council sessions.”
For people who work outside of Schenectady, “moving the meeting time to 5:30 may be the difference between having dinner with your family, holding your newborn baby, or picking up kids from after-school programs,” Williams said.
But Marva Isaacs told the council the 5:30 start “would be great” because it allows someone working traditional hours to go straight to the meetings after work.
“When you go home, you don’t want to come back out,” Isaacs said.
Email submissions from former councilman Vince Riggi and David Giacolone asked the council to keep the start time at 7, while Deneen Palmateer, Margaret Holoday and Brooke Spraragen emailed their respective support for a 5:30 p.m. start.
Giacolone pointed out that when arriving in time for a 5:30 meeting, parking is not free, according to signs around City Hall and downtown that want payment from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“That issue will irk or confuse many people,” he said.
Riggi asserted that the earlier start time was “a terrible idea,” and he suggested it was being proposed at the convenience of the elected officials rather than the public.
“If only one person is denied the opportunity to speak out because of this 90 minute proposed change, it would be a knife in the heart of open government,” Riggi wrote. “Please city council, you’ve had it fairly easy for the past 15 months, do your job and put this selfish idea away for good.”
Palmateer, on the other hand, said the 7 p.m. meetings were too disruptive for her schedule.
“I would rather hit a meeting on my way home from the office (I work in Albany), than feel rushed, going home, cooking dinner and then having to head back to attend a meeting.
Holoday, a senior citizen and retiree, said it’s more convenient and safer for her and others in the same category to attend meetings at 5:30, especially during the winter.
In recent weeks, councilwomen Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and Carmel Patrick, and Councilman John Polimeni have spoken in favor of the 5:30 p.m. start, while Councilwoman Marion Porterfield expressed opposition.