The Front Page
CityLine: August 14, 2001 -- City Hall
The Delfino Administration is proposing changes to the way monthly Common Council meetings are conducted "to prevent the Common Council from discussing and voting on public issues after midnight."
In an official news release from City Hall, Mayor Delfino made this statement:
"The last Common Council meeting lasted until 3:45 A.M., long after most people have gone to sleep. It is insane and prevents many of our residents from participating in the public debate on some of the most important issues facing our City in the last twenty years."
The Mayor proposes starting Common Council meetings at 7:30 PM, instead of the current 8 P.M. start. He also wants the Council to agree to an automatic curfew at midnight, with a mandatory "carry-over" of the remaining agenda to the next night, Tuesday evening.
Says Delfino: "The Council should be prepared to meet every night if it has to in order to get the people's business done. This is what we need to do in order to ensure that the public is included in the process."
The Delfino Administration, by unofficial count, has staged more council meetings than the previous Schulman Administration. In 1994, the Common Council under Mayor Sy Schulman met 21 times. In 1999, Mayor Delfino doubled the number of Council meetings "to reflect the flurry of proposals created by what Delfino calls 'the revitalization era of White Plains,'" according to the City Hall statement.
In the year 2000 the Council met 61 times, tripling the number of Council meetings from 1994.
The Common Council meeting of August 5 to 6, which ran from 8:10 PM to 3:45 PM with two 10 minute breaks, was the longest council meeting in 30 years, according to the city Registrar, Janice Minieri, who recalled that in the 70s, Council meetings used to have an 11 o'clock curfew.
Last week's council meeting featured 6 Public Hearings and discussion of a resolution. Speakers were not limited to specific time limits. All speakers who wanted to be heard were allowed to speak. Several persons awaiting for their opportunity to present during their hearing were obliged to wait 4 hours, 6 hours, and one, a full 7 hours before their hearing came up.
What disturbed the news media personnel covering the meeting was that the Beyer Blinder Belle presentation on the "height study" and the City Center public hearing did not begin until 11 PM and midnight, respectively. The zoning hearings were taken first.
Channel 12's television crew, there to cover the Cappelli City Center project (which was listed first on the agenda, but was delayed until after the zoning hearings), walked out after discovering the City Center was delayed indefinitely into the night. (Public dessemination of the Cappelli Center models presented later that night, would have been very helpful to the public if televised clips of the model had been presented on Channel 12.)
According to the official City Hall statement released Tuesday, Delfino in his 1998 Inaugural Address, pledged to "swing the doors of City government wide open." In the statement, it credits him with initiating a series of reforms "aimed at increasing public access and participation." Increasing the number of times the Common Council has met has been the most visible evidence of this initiative.
Delfino is credited by the statement with providing full access to Council meeting minutes and agendas through the city website at www.cityofwhiteplains.com, which provides minutes of every Council meeting for the past six years. The statement also reports: "Delfino has also restored work session meetings, which allows the Common Council to be briefed in public on City issues and to ask questions."
It should be pointed out by this observer of City Hall that without scheduled Work Sessions, all Common Council meetings would run much longer, and projects, proposals, and resolutions would take even longer to go through the presentation, hearing, and approval process than they do now, because the Common Council would ask a lot more questions.
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