Kent OKs delaying public comments until after voting

Michael Risinit The Journal News

March 28, 2002

KENT - The Town Board sparked outrage this week when a majority voted to move public comment to the end of its regular meetings after votes are cast on all agenda items.

While the move brings its meeting format in line with others in Putnam, including the Carmel Town Board and the county Legislature, the decision, one Kent activist said, removes a "degree of democracy" from the town. Residents were previously permitted to speak as the board took up each item.

"I don't care what other towns do," said Jeff Green, who maintains a Web site,, that monitors town happenings. "The public will never get a chance to speak and is losing the opportunity to influence the board's intents."

The five-member board voted 3-2 in favor of the measure Tuesday night. The meeting also saw two-term Councilwoman Christine Woolley submit her resignation - effective Monday and Councilman Joseph D'Ambrosio initiate censure proceedings against Supervisor Annmarie Baisley.

The public-speaking resolution, which was supported by Baisley, Woolley and Councilman Lou Tartaro, calls for item-by-item public comment only during workshop meetings. Workshops are more discussion-oriented and seldom feature voting by the board. Critics said the new policy forces residents to attend additional meetings if they want to witness the debate behind an issue and it's subsequent decision.

"They're just trying to keep us quiet," said Harriet Zajaczkowski, who regularly attends meetings and routinely addresses the board. "I think it's undemocratic."

Baisley said yesterday that the new measure wasn't an attempt to stifle public comment but rather an effort to improve the general decorum at meetings. The gatherings usually feature shouting and interruptions some board members and residents try to talk over one another.

"Every item is discussed at the workshop, and they will still be allowed to comment," Baisley said.

Carmel Supervisor Frank Del Campo said his town's similar policy "has worked very well." Each resolution, he said, is explained before each vote, and all the workshops and regular meetings are televised. Kent's workshops will not be televised.

"At times, I modify the policy" but in general we haven't had any problem whatsoever," DElCampo said yesterday.ings. The gatherings usually feature shouting and interruptions as some board members and residents try to talk over one another.

Also during Tuesday's meeting, D'Ambrosio, the board's only Democrat, submitted a memorandum to Town Attorney Tim Curtiss outlining his plan to ask the Town Board to censure Baisley. The councilman accused Baisley of failing to comply with a resolution selecting an accounting software company, of verbally harassing town employees and of attempting to purchase a town car without board approval. The alleged acts, he said, illustrated the supervisor's disregard for the board.

This basically shows her there's consequences for her actions," D'Ambrosio said yesterday. "She needs to work with the board, and the board needs to approve all things."

If the board approved the censure, the result would amount to not much more than an expression of disapproval. Baisley dismissed all of the contentions fisted in the councilman's letter.

"The most disruptive person on that board is Joe D'Ambrosio and that's what he's trying to do," Baisley said.

Woolley's departure also sets up a possible showdown among the four remaining members, who could have an opportunity to vote on a replacement. Any deadlock leaves a vacancy. Either way, the seat is up for election in November, Putnam Democratic Elections Commissioner Robert Bennett said, for the one year remaining in Woolley's four-year term. In her resignation letter, Woolley said her new position of deputy county clerk of the state Department of Motor Vehicles would not allow her to be an effective board member.

Councilwoman Kathy Doherty joined D'Ambrosio in voting against the resolution that shifted public comment to the end of a meeting.

However, she said that every meeting feels like a fight and that needs to change.

"We shouldn't be fighting each other. We should be learning together," Doherty said.


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