Only in North Tonawanda: Is NT surreptitiously violating Open Meetings Law?

Reviewing 20http://southbuffalonews.com2-20http://southbuffalonews.com5 Common Council minutes posted on NT’s website indicates most meetings lasted less than 30 minutes, some less than http://southbuffalonews.com0, only a few lasting 60.

In http://southbuffalonews.com2/ minutes, Jean Kroetsch requested more information be included on agendas so she could understand  budget transfers.  Do Council members, Mayor, or City Clerk-Treasurer know Jean Kroetsch’s her role in NT’s past financial administrations? Officials provide information veiling details because most residents don’t have the time or patience to drag the details out of them. When Kroetsch asks on our behalf, she should be treated with the respect she is due and answered properly.

Kroetsch said she was present when Mayor Pappas announced in October there would be no tax increase. She then read in newspapers taxes were going up  She asked what caused the increase, noting NT has $5 million in the bank earning 0-2% interest and should use those funds to cover the increase. She suggested using Casino funds for street repairs, noting not enough money is spent on roads.

Comments from residents at Council meetings are recorded, but no responses from officials are given. Televised Council meetings of the City and Town of Lockport indicate that their officials respond immediately to speaker’s concerns.

NT Council meetings aren’t televised and are held when most residents, other than politicians, are having dinner after a long day. Lasting 30 minutes or less, public participation is difficult. It doesn’t take a Masters Degree in Political Science to realize the party in control holds the meetings of the Council, School Board and County Legislature at the same time to minimize public scrutiny. Concerned residents cannot attend all three at the same time.

NT puts the “meat” on the agenda for workshops instead of for public meetings. Residents and media are allowed to attend workshops, but the title itself intimidates most from attending and asking questions.

Residents attending Council meetings hear “carried” for everything on the agenda. Aldermen already discussed it all out of sight of public meetings. Because of ironhanded one-party rule, there’s never any actual debate at workshops or public meetings. Decisions appear to be handed down to them before the items hit the agenda.

A (Buffalo News, 2/http://southbuffalonews.com3/http://southbuffalonews.com5) letter to the Editor from James Healy said Buffalo Board of Education member Larry Quinn needed a refresher on the First Amendment, including “The First Amendment guarantees citizens freedom of speech. This guarantee does not require the approval of elected officials or an agreement with its content. It is the responsibility of good citizens to question their elected officials in pursuit of a transparent and free society.” Preventing citizens whose opinions or manner of speaking you don’t respect is unconstitutional when you are an elected official.

Per the Open Meetings Law, “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that citizens be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”

A (Buffalo News, 3/8/http://southbuffalonews.com5) article about the County Legislature included “A Democratic resolution to change the public speaking format at meetings was sent to committee.” Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso predicted before the previous week’s session that the Republican majority would probably kill the proposal there. The resolution would have moved public speaking about issues not on the night’s agenda back near the start of the meeting. In 2009, the Republican majority passed a measure moving such comments to the end of the meeting, meaning that anyone who wanted to address the Legislature on a general topic had to sit through the Legislature’s typical two-hour plus meeting to do so. “Public speaking in the final time slot has dwindled, and the former cadre of “gadflies” that used to attend Legislature meetings no longer does so,” continued that article. A gadfly is someone who annoys people by being very critical or is a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests, etc.  Is that what those elected to represent us think of us?

NT’s meeting time was changed at the same time as the County’s from the longtime Wednesdays 7 p.m. start to Tuesdays at 6 or 6:30, (sometimes 6:http://southbuffalonews.com5, occasionally other times) to also make it inconvenient for most residents to attend meetings. Meetings and locations of most boards and commissions are not announced routinely so citizens can attend them either.

How about fixing this in 20http://southbuffalonews.com6?

Council plans to offer non-Council meeting opportunities for residents to share concerns, perhaps twice a month in four-hour periods outside City Hall might be a good start at listening to the residents, if it isn’t another attempt to keep residents away from the Council meetings where decisions are made!


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