When do you think a public officials is more likely to listen to your concerns or complaints – when you’re typing a comment onto a computer screen or when you’re right there in person to get in their face?
The politicians know the answer. And so do the rest of us
Public officials are most responsive when they have to face their constituents in person. While people can ask questions and make demands by submitting questions and concerns online during a remote government meeting, it just doesn’t have the same effect as stepping up to the microphone and saying your piece face to face with your public officials.
That’s what Niskayuna town officials are counting on as they abandon in-person public meetings in favor of meetings in which the public can only observe and participate remotely.
The decision came shortly after new Gov. Kathy Hochul gave government boards in the state the option of continuing with a hybrid of in-person/remote meetings or abandoning in-person meetings in favor of going all remote until Jan. 15.
Virtually all local government boards, including school boards, decided to keep in-person meetings, realizing they could help control the spread of the virus through social distancing, attendance limits and mask requirements.
But not Niskayuna.
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed announced the change via electronic announcement on Sept. 5, the Sunday of the three-day Labor Day weekend.
As a public official, if you really want residents to know what’s going on, do you share vital information like a major change in the community’s meeting attendance policy when the least number of people are likely to be paying attention?
Only if you want to avoid the most objections.
Town officials face a number of issues that could generate blow-back from citizens at a public meeting.
They include issues with the police department and the selection of a new police chief, traffic congestion, the continued closure of the Niskayuna school pool to town residents, and other issues. Not to mention, the town is heading into a November election that includes an open seat for supervisor (Syed isn’t seeking another term.) and contested races for Town Board.
The Town Board needs to be there to face the citizens in person and address their concerns and answer their questions.
While the covid situation is still a crisis, people are still allowed to go to work, stores, school and sporting events in person, as well as attend school board and municipal governmental meetings in other communities, when safety precautions are taken.
If Niskayuna officials are truly committed to transparency and accountability — and not just trying to hide from their constituents by meeting remotely — the Town Board will return to in-person meetings immediately.