Resident asks Troy to reconsider new meeting guidelines
TROY - A borough resident said this week that he was urging borough council to reconsider its recently adopted new meeting rules.
Aaron Wagner, a local dentist, was concerned that the rules were limiting public comments to "undefined, vague" current issues. In addition, he said that the rules were passed with no public comment.
He said official actions taken by council "always seem to be passed without any public input whatsoever, especially the latest resolution regarding public comment at borough meetings." He asked for transparency in government.
"We really just desire to exercise our right of free speech."
Last month, borough council adopted new meeting rules that state, in part, that comments from the public will be restricted to current issues before council. Furthermore, the council chairman is the one who will decide if an issue is current, the rules state.
The rules were criticized by Rosanna Cavanagh, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition in Providence, R.I.
When asked for comment, she said that the new rules "seem to run counter to the spirit of the open meetings law and the purpose of the First Amendment."
She continued, "it also may call into question whether or not such elected officials
remember that they are in office to serve the public."
When asked for comment, Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center at The Freedom Forum, based in Washington, D.C., said the "current issues" stipulation mentioned in council's new meeting rules seem vague and could open the door to potential abuse.
"You have a vague standard of current issues to be determined on the fly; a court may determine you are simply saying, 'we don't want any comments,'" he said. He said such vague laws don't stand a good chance in the court system, should one challenge them.
"Vague laws generally don't stand," he said.
"I don't think any reasonable person can know what that (current issues) means, and we don't want government arbitrarily deciding who can speak or who can't," he said.
Following an Aug. 31 story in The Daily Review containing Cavanagh's and Policinski's comments, council member Mike Davison phoned the newspaper, objecting to the story. He told The Daily Review that the new rules regulating public comment were "just a slight control measure." In the past, borough council meetings have been spirited, with members of the public expressing their frustrations and complaints to council.
Davison had earlier expressed his concerns about being "butchered" by the public.
At a previous meeting, when the possibility of holding a night meeting was being discussed by council, Davison, who was not in favor of regular night meetings, said, "My opinion, from what I've seen here in Troy, you're just going to get butchered. And I'm not going to take it. I don't have the temperament for it."
At this week's meeting, Wagner told council, "The First Amendment is a cornerstone of our democracy and should not be infringed upon on any level of government, so I would urge the council to reconsider this resolution (the new meeting rules) and work with the citizenry to make Troy a better place to work and live."
He asked that public comment be allowed "at any level." Wagner said public input should not be limited to "current issues."
Council members didn't respond to his concerns.
The new rules don't define a "current issue" nor do they contain an assurance from one council member, Krystle Bristol, who said, "I think that if somebody has an issue that probably won't be on the agenda and they call the borough office, just a couple days in advance to make sure it's on the agenda, I can't see why it won't be put on the agenda for the next meeting."
Council continued its experimentation with public comments at its meeting this week.
When the meeting began, council president Jason Hodlofski stated that council was going "to try something a little different today." The decision seemed to address at least some of Wagner's concerns.
"When we get to issues that we're going to vote on, we're going to make a first and second motion, the council will discuss, and then if anybody from the public wants to address that issue, they can do it at that time before we vote," Hodlofski said.
Further public comments were taken at the end of the meeting.
One resident, Jack Hulslander, was pleased with this decision.
"I have seen improvement this morning," he said. "People are allowed to make comments before things are seconded."
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.