Beat the clock

Clifton Park residents now have a five-minute time limit, and a timer to remind them of it, when speaking during the public privilege period of town board meetings.

A somewhat lax five-minute policy has been in place for some time, but town officials at their Monday, Dec. 3, meeting passed a resolution that would give individual speakers a single, five-minute time limit to address relevant town business.

I think that this is seen as a debate, that people want to debate from the floor, and that's not the proper use of public privilege, said Supervisor Phil Barrett. The supervisor admitted he has let speakers run over the time limit and let individuals come to the podium multiple times, but said a change was necessary to run more productive meetings.

The resolution was not met entirely with open arms.

"This is an attempt to stifle the democratic process, with a small 'd,' when people do not say things in your favor," said resident and town Democratic Party vice chairman Youssef Ballout. "The direct effect, regardless of what you're trying to do, is not going to be beneficial to the political process here in town. This is contradictory to open government."

Town Board meeting fixture Norm Goldman called the resolution a "bunch of baloney."

"I've been speaking at public privilege for going on three decades. In all that time I've never come across a town board who are such chickens as this one, based on the resolution you considered tonight," he said.

Goodman also said that the resolution was a way for the board to avoid listening to criticism.

The resolution was passed unanimously. In discussing the action, board members noted that the majority of the contact they have with the public is through phone and e-mail exchanges, or through one-on-one discussions with people who may see them in town or at events.

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