On Tuesday, February 21, 2023, Saratoga Springs Mayor Kim announced his new schedule for City Council meetings. The meetings will now commence at 5PM not 7PM and the public comment period will be moved from the first item at Council meetings to the last.
This initiative is, according to the Mayor, to allow more public input.
Some of us are a little skeptical. It may have more to do with minimizing access by Black Lives Matter activists.
Unfortunately, it will affect more than the Black Lives Matter activists who have disrupted recent Council meetings. For one thing, it means that citizens who may want to address the Council about an agenda item will have to wait until the item has already been acted upon before they can address the Council.
I expect there will be some very unhappy people when they show up at a Council meeting to oppose something and discover they cannot address the Council until after the issue is voted on and done.
I corresponded with Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub about this plan, and he raised concerns over its adoption:
While I understand the idea behind changing the start time for the city council meeting, I think the feedback we received from constituents at the last council meeting was that we need to be more measured and thoughtful concerning community needs in making this decision. In particular, I’m concerned that the public comment start time will now be a moving target which will make it hard for individuals to know what time they need to be at the meeting in order to speak. In addition, for community members with jobs, beginning the meeting at 5PM will be problematic. I applaud the mayor's decision to implement monthly community meetings to spend time working on solutions to significant community issues, I think we should perhaps reconsider the 5PM start time pending input from constituents before making any significant change.
I also think that placing the comment period at the end of the meeting is problematic. People commonly come to our meetings in order to try to affect proposed actions to be enacted at the meeting. Placing the public comment period at the end of the meeting would make their concerns moot.
Commissioner Jason Golub
Here is how the editorial in the Daily Gazette characterized it:
The move is designed purely to make the meetings less convenient for people to attend, to ensure fewer people are aware of the board's actions. and to discourage public participation and criticism.
Daily Gazette Editorial February 23, 2023
The Mayor tried to put a better public spin on the plan by announcing that the time allowed for each public comment speaker would be expanded from two minutes to four minutes.
It was regrettable that when the Mayor announced these changes, there was no pushback from his colleagues on the Council. Hopefully, they will find their voices at the next meeting.