A little light fashioned to the top of the podium inside the Niskayuna town board room will now indicate to residents when their time to speak is up during privilege of the floor.
“We are recommending speakers limit their comments to five minutes,” said Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni.
She said some residents brought the issue up to her regarding how long people speak during privilege of the floor.
“We have to be mindful of our neighbors who want to move on to other items on the agenda,” she said.
This mechanism helps strike that balance, she said.
The last administration did not set any sort of time limit for privilege of the floor.
Puccioni said she looked into what other municipal boards and school boards have implemented. She also said she talked to each town board member about the change.
But other residents aren’t happy about the move. Board member Jason Moskowitz said he was never included in discussions about the change either.
“The purpose of privilege of the floor is to give residents an opportunity to voice their concerns, and they should be allotted any amount of time that they feel is necessary to do so,” Moskowitz said in an emailed statement. “It is also an opportunity for fellow residents to hear from each other. As elected officials, we wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the residents, and now that we are there, it’s our job to listen.”
The action isn’t uncommon either, said Paul Wolf, the president of the Coalition on Open Government.
“If the limit is five minutes per person, I think that is great as many places limit a speaker’s time to three minutes,” Wolf said.
He said privilege of the floor is vital for public meetings and officials.
“It is important for elected officials to hear public comment before they vote on items so that what the public has to say can be considered prior to casting any votes,” he said. “Public comment should occur at the beginning of the meeting on agenda and non-agenda items.”
The Niskayuna school board only allows residents three minutes to speak, with board president Kim Tully using a timer to track each speaker. Rotterdam allows speakers four minutes, with the supervisor raising their hand to indicate to the person it’s time to wrap up their comments.
Puccioni said the device they are using to track people’s time was already at town hall.
“It’s been here for years apparently,” she said.
She said it is only a light that comes on, the device doesn’t make a noise.
“Oh my goodness no, this is not a game show,” she said.