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Friday, 07 February 2014 10:09

Reporter’s Notebook- Council: Time’s Up

By | News
Reporter’s Notebook- Council: Time’s Up

“Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way…”

                  - Pink Floyd, “Time”


SARATOGA SPRINGS – Our review of the proceedings of the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, February 4 must include something about what occurred later in the night, after the meeting room was all but abandoned except for a hardcore group of stalwarts, perhaps about six people, including myself.


I was hoping it would not be necessary to revisit the issue of ponderous, self-serving time wasting on behalf of  council members with a new year and a new administration. In truth, I believe Mayor Joanne Yepsen is making a valiant effort to keep the meetings moving along as quickly as possible. 


Having experienced being at the tail end of many council meetings, she certainly has tried to keep the pace brisk while coping with longer than usual public comment periods since taking office due to the divisive casino issue. 


It’s important for everyone to make a commitment to making meetings more brisk, not because as a reporter I want to get out earlier (although that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world) but because as an active citizen and voter, I would like more citizens to take an active interest in what is, after all, the people’s business. 


However, nobody in their right mind will elect to sit through overly lengthy meetings, agendas padded with ponderous items that have no purpose and no respect for fellow council members’ and the audience’s time. 


Case in point: as we approached 10:30 p.m., fully 3.5 hours into a long meeting, we finally arrived at the Public Safety agenda, which had these items:


- Four discussion items. None of which had a vote attached to it.

- One motion to set a public hearing.

- One announcement.


In truth, only one of the four ‘discussion’ items was a discussion in the classic sense, for none of the council members had any response (except in some cases to inspect the ceiling) to anything Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen had to say, except for an item regarding eleventh hour appointments by former Mayor Johnson. 


Otherwise, library silence. 


The first ‘discussion’ item was perhaps the biggest time waster. Commissioner Mathiesen actually thought it was a good use of public time to read into the record a two-week old reader’s view he had written, and which had already been published in the media, on his opinion on the casino issue. 


Regardless of what you think of the merits of his opinion on the subject (you can search it out yourself if you like – it appears to advocate unilaterally changing the thrust of the language of a proposition that has passed statewide in this reporter’s opinion and therefore has zero shot of happening), the point is why he needed to take up everyone’s time in the first place with this. 


Other commissioners have written reader’s views; some for us, some for other publications. When was the last time someone read it into the record? If it must be part of the record (a dubious point), why not just hand it in to the person taking minutes and move on?


This was followed closely by two other ‘no-discussion’ items, both pet subjects for the commissioner; one on the subject of bar-closing hours and a noise ordinance. Commissioner Mathiesen saw fit to say that he was planning to introduce motions on each at some undefined time in the future. Again, at this late hour are future motion forecasts really a good use of public time?


In fact, why are pure ‘discussion’ items, without a vote attached, even on the agenda? Last time I looked, council members were allowed to talk to each other before meetings. This is why other meetings, including Saratoga County’s Board of Supervisors and many other municipalities are able to get their business done in a fraction of the time it takes this council to do so.


Finally, Commissioner Mathiesen made an announcement about his next public safety forum, over a month from now. If you missed this announcement because your eyes had glazed over by this point, no need to worry. He promised to repeat this announcement again at the next couple of council meetings. Oh, goody!


While we are singling someone out here, I want to make it clear that Commissioner Mathiesen is by no means the only one on the council who engages in this kind of thing – just the latest and perhaps most illustrative example. 



I do promise to point out this kind of time wasting by any of our elected officials in the future, as I believe it is discourteous to the county supervisors who sometimes have to wait over three hours to give their reports, to fellow council members and most importantly, to the public at large. 

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