SCHENECTADY — A proposal to host quarterly City Council meetings outside of City Hall was met with mixed reactions Tuesday, with several council members raising concerns about security and inadvertently excluding some from the democratic process.
Councilman Carl Williams, during a meeting of the Government Operations Committee, proposed holding four council meetings outside City Hall each year in order to reach more residents and establish greater relationships with the community. He said relocating the meetings, which would still be livestreamed, would also address transportation barriers and make it easier for residents to speak directly to elected officials.
“I think that is something that we should research to potentially have meetings in other areas of the city so that we are moving City Hall to the people as opposed to having the people only be able to come here,” he said.
Several council members liked the idea, including Council President Marion Porterfield, who said additional research is needed before moving forward, but that hosting four meetings outside of City Hall was not a “heavy lift” and would help bring more people into the democratic process and bolster community relationships.
“I think it’s a good idea for us to be able to bring ourselves to the people,” she said.
But several members had reservations, including Council Members Carmel Patrick and Doreen Ditoro, who said City Hall is centrally located and is easily accessed from multiple bus lines.
The pair suggested moving council meetings to an earlier time as a way of increasing public participation.
Currently, the City Council committee meetings are held on the first and third Mondays of every month at 5:30 p.m. Full council meetings, where resolutions and local laws are passed, are hosted on the second and fourth Mondays at 7 p.m.
Patrick, who also raised security concerns if the meetings were moved, suggested all meetings be held at 5:30 p.m., so those interested in attending can come straight from work instead of having to go home and then back out.
Anyone looking to attend a City Council meeting must pass through a metal detector and several security guards are posted at the entrance of City Hall.
Councilman John Polimeni, meanwhile, said he was concerned about negative impacts of the proposal, noting that City Hall is centrally located and holding meetings elsewhere might prevent people from attending.
He also questioned whether residents actually wanted the meetings relocated, adding that there have been times City Council chambers have been “packed.”
“How many people does this negatively impact, because this is a central location. If we move a meeting … will people who would traditionally come here go to those meetings?” Polimeni said. “How many would be negatively affected I think is something that we really need to consider.”
But the council will be taking up important issues in the coming months — including those surrounding police reform and allocating millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds — and ensuring that the public has an opportunity to weigh in at an accessible location they feel comfortable in will be essential, Williams said.
“I do think that having these meetings in Schenectady High School and the Boys & Girls Club, where there are individuals from the community that feel comfortable going to those places, that this is appropriate for us to at least make another attempt,” he said.
Councilman Damonni Farley, chair of the Government Operations Committee, agreed.
He said the council shouldn’t let “tradition stifle innovation” and that hosting meetings in neighborhoods would give members a greater understanding of issues impacting residents.
“The heart of our city is in our neighborhoods, so the more that we as a government body are present in the neighborhoods, then that doesn’t just foster engagement, but what it does is it demonstrates and it helps us to have a better picture of what’s happening in the neighborhoods and that presence right there works on a couple of different levels,” he said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.