Niagara Gazette

March 31, 2013

Council majority relents on meeting time change

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Falls City Council will be making a few changes to the new meeting format.

The new measure will set the time of the legislative session to 6 p.m. and would make the time changes temporary, to be revisited at the end of the year. By making the change temporary it will allow the council to “gauge public participation,” according to the resolution.

Councilman Sam Fruscione has put forth an agenda item that would amend a resolution passed at the March 18 council meeting that changed the time of committee of the whole meeting from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and changed the time of the legislative session from 7 p.m. to “15 minutes following the conclusion of the committee of the whole meeting.”

Fruscione said the new measure will make for a clearer meeting structure than the one set forth by the resolution from the March 18 meeting.

“Now it’s laid out clearly,” he said.

The original measure caused some controversy at the March 18 meeting, with several citizens raising concerns over the lack of a specific time for the legislative session and questioning whether the earlier meeting time for that session —during which the public has an opportunity to speak on agenda items and for the good of the public for the record —would limit participation.

Norma Higgs, the treasurer of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, said she believed that changing the legislative session time to an earlier and unspecified time would “undoubtedly” decrease public participation.

“I think these questions should be addressed before you change the meeting time which, ironically, will limit the number of questions that are asked of you in the future,” Higgs said during the March 18 meeting. “So, I think you should table this until these questions are answered.”

The new resolution would also bring the council back into compliance with New York state open meetings law, which states that, “Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least 72 hours before such meeting.”

Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee On Open Government, said that as the meeting times stand now, the are not in compliance with that law.

“To my mind there must be a specific time and place set, not a range of what could be hours,” he said.

Fruscione said he was unaware of any possible issues with the open meeting law and that the new resolution was a result of concerns raised by members of the public and fellow council members, not any statements from Freeman.

“The people made some statements,” he said. “I took notes and I made my amendments.”

Council members Kristen Grandinetti and Charles Walker tried to amend the measure to allow for a public hearing before the time change was implemented, but the amendment was defeated with Fruscione, Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. voting no to his motion.

Fruscione, Choolokian and Anderson also voted to pass the measure with Grandinetti and Walker voting no. Loud applause from the public followed both no votes.

Before voting no, Walker restated he believed the council should hold a public hearing to allow for public comment on the meeting times before passing the measure.

“I still support that hearing,” Walker said. “Especially after hearing from the public tonight because that’s who we actually work for.”

mug of Fruscione, Sam Sam Fruscione Clearing things up