By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Falls City Council meetings may be ending a little earlier this year.
Three city council members – Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian, and council members Robert Anderson Jr. and Sam Fruscione — have put forth a resolution that would move the committee of the whole portion of the meeting back from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The legislative session, which has started at 7 p.m. for many years, would begin after a 15 minute recess at the end of the first meeting.
Choolokian said he, Anderson and Fruscione discussed the change after the meetings were held back-to-back at the March 4 meeting because of a personal conflict for one of the council members.
“It’s a better format,” Choolokian said. “It flows better.”
The resolution states that by adjusting the meeting times council will be more efficient in its use of city employees — specifically the city police officer assigned to the meetings — and will allow for greater participation in the sessions from city officials and the public.
Choolokian said that city officials — specifically Mayor Paul Dyster — are more likely to be in attendance for the legislative session in the new format and could be helpful in answering questions from members of the public.
Choolokian said he believes the new times will have little effect on the participation from members of the public.
“If there’s no major controversy people don’t show up,” he said.
The measure, which will likely pass given its three-member support, also comes on the heels of the council’s decision to stop going to taxpayer-funded meals between sessions, part of a city “spending freeze” resolution passed in a 3-2 vote at the March 4 meeting.
The meals became controversial after a Gazette series outlining city spending during last year’s spending freeze detailed the items purchased at the meals.
The council was also debating cuts to popular city cultural and civic institutions, which were maintained despite public outcry over the course of several council meetings.
Choolokian said the time change was meant to increase efficiency and did not have anything to do with the council members no longer going to the meals.
“I don’t think that comes into play,” he said.
Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti said she sees both promise and problems in the resolution, but wondered why she was not consulted when it was written.
“I would have liked to have been asked before it was brought forth as a resolution,” she said.
Grandinetti agrees that the presence of city officials could help avoid confusion during the public comment period of the meetings.
“If they were there some of the confusion with the public could be avoided,” she said.
But the councilwoman is concerned with issues of public access, saying the earlier time of the legislative meeting might keep some members of the public from attending.
But, she said, the time change also might encourage more people to participate.
“I think it might be interesting to try it temporarily and see if it could work,” Grandinetti said.
Dyster said he has a few concerns with the time changes.
He did say that without a fixed time for the legislative meeting members of the public may be discouraged from attending.
“It might be difficult for (the public) to predict when the legislative session will start,” Dyster said.
He is also hesitant to commit to staying for every legislative session. By being present during the legislative session members of the public could fuel debate on a certain topic by pulling either the mayor or council members into an argument. The work session is the appropriate place for debates and clarifications, he said.
“It’s likely to create disorder and more confrontational situations,” Dyster said.