#LetterToTheEditor #YourVoice #SpotlightNews
Something is terribly wrong in the Town of Colonie. It’s not the traffic, or the pace of development. Yes, those things have people questioning the future direction of the town, but what may be even more disturbing is the way residents are treated when they participate in town meetings.
The town makes it difficult for the public to meaningfully engage in town business. There no standardized guidelines for public comment at town meetings, and meeting agendas are posted very late (sometimes the same day as the meeting) so it is difficult for people to participate with informed opinions. When residents do take time from their busy schedules to attend and speak, they are now being mistreated by town officials.
The unprofessional behavior of certain town officials was on full display at the July 26 Town Board meeting during a hearing about a development proposal. A resident attempting to submit information to the board for the record was treated as an adversary. Certain board members made accusations against people in the audience who were not even speaking at the meeting, and scolded other attendees to “get over it” when they were visibly shocked by the bullying they witnessed. For those of us who experienced this treatment at that meeting, which was not the first time for some, it was deeply disturbing to see a troubling pattern of behavior from town officials continue and escalate.
Asking questions, giving a dissenting viewpoint, or pressing another perspective is part of the democratic process. Bringing new information to the table, even if it is voluminous, is one of the purposes for having public comments and hearings. If the town refuses to engage residents earlier in the planning process, they cannot complain when information is presented at public hearings.
Town of Colonie officials, including Supervisor Paula Mahan, the Town Board, the town attorney and department heads should be welcoming the more than 80,000 residents’ participation in government, not stonewalling people and telling them to “get over it,” as one board member condescendingly demanded of residents.
Sure, it’s hard to hear criticism. And yes, sometimes the public doesn’t deliver the message the way one would like. Residents are doing their best, with the little information they are given, to engage. Public servants should certainly not be lashing out at people during these meetings. As one of the largest towns in the Capital District, Colonie should be setting the example for open government, not bullying residents and suppressing public participation.