Informal sessions to be held with communities around town
The Bethlehem Town Board: coming soon to location near you?
Board members approved a plan to hold informal forums around town Wednesday, March 24, when the five-member body voted unanimously in favor of the idea of taking the board on the road.
Details, such as dates and locations, have not been finalized, but Supervisor Sam Messina said the intention is to get the Town Board out to locations in all hamlets to talk about area-specific issues.
The notion is to have informal sessions so we can get around town, he said. `These do not replace Town Board meetings.`
The board will still convene twice a month at Town Hall in Delmar, the official meeting place for all regular meetings.
`For a whole array of reasons, official meetings have to be held in Town Hall,` said Councilman Kyle Kotary.
While board members will not be intending to hold votes at these sessions, they will adhere to New York’s open meetings law ` or `Sunshine Law` ` that states any time a quorum of a government agency is convened to discuss public business, it must be advertised and made open to the public. That way, all Town Board members will be able to attend.
`We will consider these to be meetings subject to the open meetings law,` Messina said. `Therefore, we’ll put out a notice, we’ll do an agenda. There ought not to be any decisions but if there are, we’ll document them.`
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said as long as notice of the meeting is given and the public is invited to attend, the sessions would be legal.
`If indeed a majority is present and they are functioning as a board, the open meetings law would apply,` Freeman said. `I assume if these are public forums, they would be advertised anyways.`
Councilman Mark Hennessey expressed reservations about how the open meetings law would apply to the meetings, but indicated he was in support of having them.
`I’m actually looking forward to talking less and hearing more from the people of the community,` he said.
He also emphasized that the meetings should focus on the area the meeting is being held, and not turn into a `road show` where townwide initiatives are played up.
Kotary said the meetings could also be an opportunity to show off some of the town’s historic structures like the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse in Selkirk.
`I think these are great ideas, we’ve had these in the past,` he said.
The town in the past has inhabited various spaces outside of Town Hall for forums, generally aimed at addressing a specific issue. Kotary specifically mentioned a meeting held under former Supervisor Theresa Egan regarding the Selkirk Bypass project.
Further details on the meetings around town will be forthcoming, but there was consensus that they should be held at 7 p.m.`not 6, when the board normally meets`to allow for greater community access.
Selkirk resident Cindy Radliff, who has long been petitioning the town to extend sewer service to residential areas in her part of town, asked the board during public comment that the first meeting be held in Selkirk and include that issue.