Public Comment Time Limited
By Sharon Torres -
Editor’s Note: In order to have the complete flavor of the meeting watch HERE starting at 1:36:13 and ending at 1:53:30
Effective April 24th the time allowed for each resident to address the Board of Trustees will drop from 5 minutes to 3 minutes and be strictly enforced.
This change appears to be based on the March meeting when many residents were concerned about flooding and the budget. They also had very strong feelings about the process for renewing the Village Manager’s contract. When addressing the board during the public comment period, residents were sometimes interrupted by the Mayor and some Trustees and sometimes exceeded the 5-minute time limit. The tensions over policy and process quickly escalated into a debate over respect and civility.
During the BOT work session Monday April 10th, Mayor Tom Murphy acknowledged “I was a bit perturbed at the last meeting by folks not following the rules.” Based on his research, other municipalities are less generous than the Village of Mamaroneck when it comes to allowing the public to speak.
While the Mayor stated that he doesn’t want to take anything away from the residents, he also wanted to make a change. At the beginning of the work session, the Mayor stated that out of fairness, the 5-minute opportunity would be allowed for that evening’s session but be strictly enforced. The Mayor asked residents to finish their thought and if they persist, “I’m gonna to adjourn the meeting and then we’re gonna reconvene and everyone else will lose their ability to have public comment because people can’t follow the rules.” Trustee Leilani Yizar-Reid agreed saying, “that would be great.”
Allowing residents to address the board is not required by law but most municipalities accommodate their constituents in some fashion. Because consistency of how the time limit has been applied was an issue, Trustee Yizar-Reid urged that the Board had to be consistent going forward. She agreed with the change and later in the meeting, she stated that reducing the time from 5 to 3 minutes for residents as “it’s not the end of the world.”
According to Trustee Manny Rawlings, new residents may not want to speak at meetings because they are discouraged by the behavior of other residents and stated, “OK, great the same 5-6 people show up are gonna come and disrespect the rules. It’s just not fair to residents. It’s not fair to the staff who have to present.”
Trustee Young said, “Since a lot of animosity seems directed at the Mayor, that when we announce these rules, that one of us instructs….” to which the Mayor responded “No, it’s my job to run the meeting but if you just back me up I appreciate it.”
Trustee Nora Lucas said “I think it’s pretty closed minded of us to be doing this. I don’t think it’s just an invitation to the public to allow them to speak. We invite them to vote for us as well and we just now are about to adopt a law where we go to four-year terms which is a little bit less accountable than a two-year term. And I think there has been a great inconsistency with the application or the limitation of the five-minute rule and I think that people correctly object to the fact that it hasn’t been administered evenly. … I don’t think it’s a good decision. And I think after last week’s meeting, maybe it was a little bit tough, but people deserve to be able to tell us what they think.”
Trustee Yizar-Reid stated, “I don’t think that anybody said that there was anything wrong with the persons of what they were saying ‘cause that is our job yes, to listen but at some point…there is a decorum at some point when do you say like OK there is a level of not just even at the very least respect for the people who are in the audience.” She stated that people have access to the Mayor once a month during his office hours and that they can email any of the trustees. Trustee Nora Lucas responded that while those were options, the only time to speak to all five Trustees was at a publicly convened meeting.
The other Trustees immediately disagreed with Trustee Lucas. Trustee Yizar-Reid defended herself stating that “I would definitely not say that I sat there and said that I didn’t want to hear what the people are saying.” Mayor Murphy said “that was an unfair characteristic of what I was saying. What I was saying is you know people are not following the rules. People are not addressing the board. People are addressing political points and you know you might be fine with that but that’s really not the purpose of this.” Trustee Young said, “We’re the board and we have to control the environment that we’re deliberating in …it’s not a free for all for whoever wants to show up.”
Trustee Lucas responded, “Maybe we should limit ourselves to three minutes as well then because I think a lot of our talking lengthens the meeting too.”
Mayor Murphy ended this part of the work session with “At the end of the day, time limits are up to the mayor” and then thanked the trustees who supported him.