Schenectady City Council discusses moving beyond City Hall

Schenectady City Hall 

Schenectady City Hall 

SCHENECTADY — A proposal to host quarterly City Council meetings outside of City Hall as a way to better engage residents is once again a topic of discussion, though some lawmakers remain opposed to the idea.  

Councilman Carl Williams reintroduced the plan with a few tweaks on Monday during a City Development & Planning Committee meeting three months after suggesting the idea to mixed reviews in January.

Williams, on Monday, said he would like to see the council host a special meeting on a select topic sometime this year before gradually hosting similar meetings throughout the city on a more regular basis moving forward as a way of further engaging and residents and seeking input on city business. 

“I do think this is something that is easily achievable if we can just fine tune what we each expect from these meetings,” he said. 

Council members Marion Porterfield and John Mootooveren voiced support for the idea and expressed interest in eventually hosting regular council meetings outside of City Hall. 

“It is something that we’ve heard the last year, when campaigning, talking with voters and people engaged in our community, to engage our community more about what we’re doing in City Hall,” Mootooveren said. 

But members Carmel Patrick, Doreen Ditoro and John Polimeni, who said they would be in favor of hosting informal town hall events to hear from community members, said they believe regular City Council meetings should remain at City Hall.

Patrick recalled a recent tour of City Hall she gave alongside Porterfield and Ditoro to a group of elementary school students where one student said she didn’t know the building existed and had no idea what went on inside.  

She said it’s important for people to witness the council operate in the “seat of democracy” and that council members regularly engage residents at various neighborhood meetings and events.  

“I really think it’s important for folks to come here and feel like they’re in the seat of democracy in our city,” Patrick said. “I think that there are a lot of meetings that we go to where we can solicit community input and hear community needs on a very regular basis.”

Patrick said she was not opposed to holding special meetings on select topics outside of City Hall as a way to further engage residents.  

Polimeni suggested the council hold town hall discussions, which he said would allow council members to meet with community members without any of the constraints that come with a regular City Council meeting, including time limits on public comment periods. 

“Why don’t we have informal town halls where we all show up and have people come and say what they need to say?” he said. “If you want to form it around a particular topic, that’s fine, but to have a special meeting, I don’t see that as necessary.”

Polimeni also raised concerns about any costs with relocating City Council meetings which are livestreamed and require microphones needed to capture audio. 

Concerns were previously raised about the need for security. Anyone seeking to enter City Hall must pass through a metal detector that is monitored by a pair of security guards.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said that fewer people tend to come to council meetings when things are going well, but show up when there is a major topic being discussed.

Members ultimately agreed to further discuss the town hall idea at the next committee meeting in two weeks, including potential topics, locations and resources needed to move the idea forward. 

“It pains me to hear our public forums have zero comments,” Williams said. “I think it’s imperative that we have continuous feedback from the residents of our city, and if people aren’t using the current processes in place, to take steps to see what more we can do to meet them where they are.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold. 

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One Comment

I I voted for Carl and am delighted that he is on the council. However, this idea does not make sense to me at all as City Hall is the known location for all neighborhoods to utilize when they have concerns. Moving the meetiong location would be a waste of resources and inconvieniet for many.  The need to encourage residents to participatio is obvious and important and I think there should be some creative ways to organize peiple and provide free transportation to City Hall on meeting nights. How about reaching out to CDTA or local Uber drivers to meet folks at designated neighborhood locations for rides down. Ask neighborhood associations to assist with this.

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