OSWEGO, NY – A resolution to make half of the County Legislature’s monthly meeting start at 7 p.m. never made it out of committee today (March 26).
The motion was defeated 3-4.
“What I really think we should do in the spirit of compromise is to do this half and half,” Legislator Mike Kunzwiler told the Strategic Planning and Government Committee. “Maybe every other month have a night meeting so the public can have some more access.”
If attendance goes up at the night meetings, the county should look at holding more meetings in the evening, he added.
Legislator Margaret Kastler pointed out that some residents don’t like to drive at night, “no matter which side of the county they’re coming from.”
“During the day is when the departments are open; so if we want some information, we can have the department heads come in her and talk to us,” she added. “(Night meetings) are going to cost a little bit more time or something. What kind of attendance do we have at night?”
Milferd Potter, committee chair, said he has heard there really isn’t that much of a difference.
Attendance is based on what is on the agenda, the pre-agenda segment (in which groups give presentations and certificates of appreciation are presented) and stuff like that, Kunzwiler noted.
“Our department heads are salaried, so I don’t think it would be an issue for them every other month to come in at night,” Kunzwiler said.
It is also tough to get people engaged in running for office (especially at the county level) because meetings are held during the day when most people are working, he continued. He said he has had people say there was an issue they wanted to speak on, but the legislature met in the afternoon and they couldn’t get off work.
“It’s kind of hard to really gauge it until we actually do it to see if there really is a difference,” he said of the time change.
“Basically, it’s for the people,” added Legislator Doug Malone. “Basically for the working public. I’d like to make a motion that we go look into it real hard and say Jan. 1 of ’13 that we schedule 50-50; say two in the spring, two in the summer and two in the fall. That’s not hard to ask for.”
Legislator Shawn Doyle seconded the motion.
“I agree there is no real difference right now between the attendance between day and night,” he said, adding the county should publicize the meeting schedule more.
The night driving might be a factor for some of the older legislators, Legislator Jim Karasek pointed out.
“This is not a retired gentlemen’s club,” Doyle said of the legislature. “It is hard for many of us who do work the day time. It is difficult, some times, for working people to be a member of this legislature if you are a typical 9 – 5 worker. So, I think the more night meetings we have, the easier it is certainly for the public’s access, but for people who want to be involved in running for office.”
Most other city, town and school boards meet in the evenings, he noted.
Legislator Jim Oldenburg said the night meeting could be a hardship for the department heads.
“These people should be allowed to go home (after work). But then they have to come all the way back. It’s not fair to them,” he said.
“It’s kind of ironic, we look around us and every one of our towns, every one of school boards – there are night meetings,” Kunzwiler said. “All I’m asking is we give it a try, six and six, that way we can get somewhat of a gauge. See if it does open up some community support to the meetings. And, if it doesn’t we can revisit it.”
“We have to take a real hard look at what it will cost us, because it will cost some money,” Legislature chair Fred Beardsley said. “I’m not saying one way or the other here. I’m just saying we should take an honest look at what the cost would be before we make a decision.”
Legislator Linda Lockwood pointed out that by having meetings in the afternoon, legislators are able to make it to the town meetings that evening.
“In terms of the meetings that people have discussed, the city council meetings, town meetings, different, meetings of that sort – I think you have to consider the geographical logistics. Oswego County is a lot bigger and contains a lot more weather zones than the city of Oswego does or the city of Fulton does or the town Minetto does or the town of Mexico does,” Legislator Jack Proud explained. “It’s much more difficult in terms of weather circumstances, other types of night circumstances for people to travel longer distances.”
More people attend the day meetings that at night, Oldenburg said.
“We are here at our December meeting in the afternoon and we come back for the public hearing on the budget (that evening) and very rarely are a lot there a lot of public people there for even for the budget, let alone any monthly meeting.”
Kunzwiler pointed out there was a budget public hearing that had to be moved over to the nearby county courthouse because there were more than 300 people there.
“(Night meetings) give the availability for our county employees that are hourly that can’t get out of the job and come and speak days. They’re just as much a part of the public as anybody else,” he said. “It may be a moot point. But at least we’re giving the availability of the option out there and see what there extra night meetings do to the attendance.”
Voting yes were Doyle, Kunzwiler and Malone.
Opposed were Potter, Karasek, Kastler and Oldenburg.