Having attended the “Working Town Board Meeting” on February 1, 2018, and listened to the Town Board members discuss the topics each has accepted as a focal point for possible revision of town procedures, I was struck most by the absence of time set aside for input of any public comment about the motions voted on at the last Town Board Meeting of Jan. 18, 2018, when a majority of the Board voted to “move forward” on two issues which together expended at least $26,000 of taxpayer money.
The first of these issues passed by motions rather than resolutions on Jan.18, 2018, was the assumption of the entire cost of retirement health care for 5 retirees. The names and town connection of these recipients were not given, but Ms. Maas said she was certain that no one had explained to these people that they were responsible for paying their entire supplemental insurance premium, and that was why the taxpayers should pay 50% of it. During the Public Comment section at the end of the meeting, I asked about the connection of these five with the town: employee or elected official. John Welsh said elected official but Ms. Mass said they were “on staff.” (After I asked my question,one, presumably a recipient, rose and thanked the Board for the retirement money, and that person is a retired elected official who HAD to have known the details of retirement in the Town Code). I was interested in hearing more details aswas Council Member Kelley vote for this motion for this year but said she will follow through with amendments made through the Town Code or employee manual.
Another unaddressed issue at the Jan.18,2018, was the “experiment“ of having the clerk who collects taxes be available in the Town Hall for all Saturdays of Feb through June with or without (not stipulated in the motion) the additional cost of a Town constable. Council Member Kelley said she could not approve this motion because not all the cost factors were clear; Council Member John Welsh who did vote with the rest of the Town Council to approve did make the point that most of the functions provided could be done by mail. This comment was not addressed by Ms. Maas.
I was hoping during this “working town meeting” of Feb.1,2018 to be able to ask more questions since there had been much to consider after the Jan.18, meeting ended, but Ms. Maas proceeded with no opportunity for input from the six taxpayers who showed up for thisFeb. 1, 2018, meeting. Also this “working meeting” was not televised, so the constituency at large will not be better informed as a result of its having taken place.
Only one televised and public interactive Town Board Meeting still in existence provides the townspeople with only one opportunity for Public Comment, and that is at the end of the meeting. Placing the Public Comment section only at the end of the meeting means the public has very little time to understand or truly consider the implications of topics just discussed, or to offer insights or knowledge about the topic at the beginning of the meeting.
To the credit of the Town Board, it covered many topics: the need for a review of the Town Code, making sure that the Town Handbook and the Town Code (the document to which the town must adhere) are not in conflict, the question of giving the Superintendent of Highways more power over his/her budget, the need to comply with Dutchess County Civil Service Regulations, the need to have a regular schedule for putting the televised Town Board meeting on television, the need to have a communication strategy, the need for a qualified, consistent audio/visual technician, the need to review the emergency preparedness, the need to review procurement policies, the need to review town employee leave (sick days, payment schedule, personal days), the need to understand employee responsibility in inclement weather, the possibility of a tier system for salaries and leave, updating of internet security, evaluating the escrow needs of the town, and the question of blanket approvals for payment of constant expenses.
At the end of the meeting in a conversation about the upcoming Association of Towns meeting in New York City, the question of the opportunity of giving input to the leadership of the Association was discussed. Councilman Frasier said he felt frustrated by having “no input”; he went on to say that the leadership “makes policy changes” but allows no input.Ms.Maas laughed a bit and asked,” Are they pretending they’re including you?” These comments were of great interest to me and seemed more than a little ironic based on the refusal of the Town Board to take any comments from the constituency during this meeting.
Each member of the Town Board is voted on by the general public, so to that degree there is still taxpayer input. Posted on the Town website is now an invitation to have coffee with the Town Board — a friendly chat is fine, but once again the general constituency is not able to see these conversations videotaped. By refusing to videotape the “working Town Board meeting” the Town has suffered a loss of opportunity for those of us not well connected to the power sources, not able to attend Town Board meetings, and thus not able to have an equal voice in shaping policy and spending public funds.
Despite all of the admirable attempts on the part of the new Supervisor to get the metaphoric trains running on time, the loss of transparency and public debate may greatly weaken the soundness of our town government.