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Residents criticize Schenectady council's new public comments rules

Residents criticize Schenectady council's new public comments rules

Rules were made last Monday
Residents criticize Schenectady council's new public comments rules
Ed Kosiur, second from left, at a Schenectady City Council meeting in 2015.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — Several residents criticized the rules created for the public comment portion of City Council meetings during its meeting on Monday.

Some residents believe the rules were created to protect council members from public criticism, while others felt it was a move meant to take away their freedom of speech. A couple residents even asked for City Council President Ed Kosiur to be removed as president and be replaced by Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo.

But throughout each residents’ speech, Kosiur did not interrupt any of them, except to ask them to summarize their point when their three minutes were almost up.

One resident, though, also had an issue with that.

“You don’t need to tell me to wrap it up,” said resident Jamaica Miles, a city activist. “I’m fully aware, seeing the clock in front of me.”

Miles was one of two speakers that evening who asked for Kosiur to be removed as council president. Joining her was Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association. Isaacs said she had a petition signed by 150 residents requesting that Kosiur be removed as council president and replaced with Perazzo.

The criticisms were in response to the release of the written ground rules presented to the council by Kosiur for the first time last week. He said they were meant to bring respect and decorum to City Council meetings following the April 23 meeting.

During that meeting, resident Steve Ram was cut off after criticizing City Councilman John Mootooveren. Kosiur said some of the comments he made were “out of order” and were personal attacks against Mootooveren.

The rules were not much different from what is already in practice at the meetings.

One change was that residents only had to put down their name instead of also having to include their address when signing up to speak at meetings. This was done for privacy reasons, Kosiur said.

The rest of the rules include allowing council members by majority vote to override a decision made by the City Council president to cut off a speaker. Council members could also choose to rule a speaker out of order by a majority vote. It’s a rule that actually is already laid out in the charter.

There is also a provision that states “proper decorum must be observed.”

This means residents can’t make personal attacks, “slanderous or obscene remarks,” threats against council members, the mayor, City Hall employees or even other speakers. The topic of the speech must also be related to city business.

Resident Ellie Pepper questioned what would be the definition of city business.

“Anyone coming to the rail is coming to let you, the elected officials, know that they think, what they’re concerned about in the city and in their neighborhood,” Pepper said. “Isn’t that always city business?”

Miles said whatever a council member does even when it’s outside of the council chambers should be considered city business, saying it’s not their job to just “show up and smile for the camera.”

“This is not Sunday church,” Miles said. “It’s everyday life.”

Ram also spoke during Monday’s meeting and said the rules were meant to restrict residents’ freedom of speech. He also added that the council president shouldn’t be expected to protect other council members from criticism.

“Why insist on intimidation and silencing the public, Mr. Kosiur?” Ram asked.

City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo spoke at the end of the meeting, again reiterating she would like rules governing the City Council presidents and their actions. She asked for the council to have more discussion on it.

“I think we should have some parameters in place for the president as well so the public can be assured they’ll have their voice as well,” Perazzo said.

Kosiur had previously noted that the City Council could override the council president.

But Perazzo expressed some skepticism, saying the makeup of the council currently might not allow for that.

After the meeting, Kosiur again said he wasn’t silencing any residents. He claimed some residents were spreading “misinformation,” posting on social media that signs were not allowed at meetings, when they in fact are allowed. However, they can’t be so large as to restrict other residents’ view.

In response to the calls for his resignation, he said he would continue to serve as president, adding he had the support of the majority of the council.

“Listen, I think I’m doing a great job,” Kosiur said, adding he did his homework on the public speaking rules.

He said he spoke to a few past council members who left the council because they were being “belittled” by members of the public.

“And that’s not what we’re here for,” Kosiur said. “We’re here to listen to their concerns and to meet their concerns.”

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