By Terry Duffy
It's a matter of minutes.
So said the Lewiston Town Board, with regard to the time frame allotted to public comments.
And some residents attending Monday's meeting weren't exactly too thrilled about it.
At Town of Lewiston meetings, as in most government sessions, residents are provided a certain time frame to express their comments on town/government affairs. Most provide for a limited time at the beginning of a meeting, some allow for timed comments at both the beginning and the end, while still others allow for a much more open-ended comment period.
"Two-minute statements from the residents please," began Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Broderick. "Come to the mic, state your name, and approximately two minutes."
And so it began.
"There are a couple of items you have yet to resolve, and we would like you to look into," said former Councilwoman Paulette Glasgow, a member of the Lewiston Taxpayer's Accountability and Action Alliance. The newly formed group, comprised of roughly a dozen residents from both above and below the hill, again visited with the Town Board, armed with comments on town affairs.
Glasgow's comments ran the gamut of ethics codes, town FOIL procedures, memory trees for departed town employees, to NYPA hydro money, questions over a town decision for one or two ponds in a planned subdivision, to open government concerns. As her comments began to run over three minutes in length, she was kindly reminded by Broderick of her time.
As her statements went beyond four minutes, Glasgow was again advised. But this time not as kindly.
"Paulette, we can look that up; we're (at) 4-1/2 minutes," Broderick said, this time responding to her comments on recent town decisions and transparency, and remarks from Robert Freeman over open government.
That was met with shouts of "I'll give her my time" from Alliance members.
Then came the gavel pounding from Broderick and the response, "It doesn't work that way."
"It has in the past, it has been accepted, and when did that change," resident Nancy Correa shouted.
Glasgow continued in a raised voice, "I just got three more sentences. In the spirit of transparency we are requesting. ..."
Broderick interrupted, "Paulette, I could let you go on all night."
As she was stopped once again, resident Steve Lowe stepped in and concluded Glasgow's comments in less than a minute.
"In the spirit of transparency, (we are) requesting that, prior to all the meetings, all information to be discussed in any board, committee or commission be posted on the town's website two or three days prior to the meeting. Thank you for your time. We look forward to these items being resolved," Lowe said.
Next to speak was Sanborn resident RoseMary Warren. Among her host of concerns was the comments issue.
"Very disappointed residents are allowed only two minutes, once a month. Because of that, only 24 minutes a year. The county legislature, they let you speak twice. Niagara-Wheatfield School Board let you speak twice, beginning and end," she said. "So I haven't figured out what the problem is, with this two minutes, once. Whether you think it's going to last too long. You don't tape it anymore. ... I'm an open government crusader and I hope you change it."
That statement was met with applause.
Commenting on the public comments issue, the Alliance later issued the following statement:
"The purpose of (a) resident's statement during a Lewiston meeting is for the Town Board to hear the thoughts of the people they serve. It should be a time where Town Board members receive input and ideas.
"Sadly, what has evolved are Town Board members who have demonstrated they care little about what the residents say and more about how long they say it, as was demonstrated by Mr. Broderick stopping a resident's remarks because they ran out of time. The people suspect something isn't right when free discussion is feared by the government.
"The Lewiston Taxpayer's Accountability and Action Alliance hopes in the future the Lewiston Town Board will not only listen to what residents have to say, but give them the courtesy of finishing."
Much later on in the Monday session, transparency, the open meetings law and the time frame period for comments became an extended discussion topic of board members, Broderick and Town Attorney Brian Seaman.
"The documents that are used in our meetings, is there anything we can do to put those on our website?" Councilman Al Bax asked Town Clerk Donna Garfinkel. He was referring to various town items contained in prepared board packets, and requested they be availed to the public.
Seaman said he discussed the matter earlier with Garfinkel.
"The open meetings law that was referenced, it doesn't have to do with every thing, every document the board looks at. It has to do with documents that are matters of open discussion at a meeting," Seaman said. He noted the board has discretion on what it releases to the website.
"A local law, a resolution to be acted on, things like that could be availed," Seaman said.
Town Board member Bill Geiben added, "It would probably be better for the smooth flow of government, for people who come to the microphone (at board meetings), to submit their comments a few days ahead of time. We might be able to address them in a timely fashion (instead of at the next meeting).
"Sometimes it's a quick matter of research, talk about a procedure (to address it)."
Responding to the earlier comments by Warren, Broderick said, "I have been in the process, with Mr. Seaman, of changing the forum for speaking, extending it to three minutes. We are working on that."
The matter was left with Broderick, the board, town attorneys and Garfinkel to determine what items would ultimately be appropriate for release to the website. As per Bax's motion, town attorneys would be instructed to draft a procedure to town documents on the website.
The resolution was approved unanimously.
In other news from the session:
•Following discussion with Seaman, the Town Board, on a 5-0 vote, approved an increase in Garfinkel's salary from $48,672 to $58,672, plus a $2,300 stipend as registrar.
Garfinkel's salary increase was approved earlier in budget discussions last fall, but later removed by interim Supervisor Ron Winkley in December in a budget-cutting move. Seaman said Garfinkel's salary increase would be per the public notice issued last fall and not be retroactive to that time frame.
•Broderick reported he has finalized new fire protection contracts with Lewiston's fire companies - Lewiston No. 1, Lewiston No. 2, Upper Mountain and Sanborn. The new, five-year contract calls for a $2,000 funding increase in 2016 and 3.5 percent increases for the years 2017-21.
Negotiations between the town and the Ransomville and Pekin companies were reportedly continuing.
The town will hold a public hearing on the fire contracts at 6 p.m. Monday, April 25, at Town Hall.
•The Town Board approved a $19,789 agreement with Moley Magnetics of Lockport to complete repair work on the town's non-operating muck land pump to drain farmlands above the hill.
•The Town Board approved the Lewiston Environmental Commission to review the state environmental quality review pertaining to the Ellicott Development commercial/residential project in the Village of Lewiston. Building and Zoning Inspector Tim Master said the village would retain lead agency status on the multimillion-dollar project, but the town was required to review the SEQR and respond.
•Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte reported LPD issued 193 traffic tickets, processed 19 accident reports, performed 22 arrests and answered 897 calls for service last month.
Previte also said LPD would organize an evacuation exercise with the Lewiston-Porter School District and Niagara University over the next month.