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When should taxpayers talk during public meetings? Hamburg's still deciding

Hamburg residents believe it is their right to tell their elected officials how to vote on any and all measures.

And unlike residents in most other Erie County towns, they could do it throughout Town Board meetings, before a resolution came to a vote. Or at least they could until Monday.

James M. Shaw, the new town supervisor, changed the practice while adding another opportunity for individuals to speak. The public is now allowed to speak near the beginning of a meeting, before the board entertains resolutions. And if you asked him Monday afternoon, there would be no comments from the audience as each resolution is brought to the floor.

"I was going to, maybe naively, cast it in stone, where we give the folks three minutes in advance of the agenda, and three minutes for another bite of the apple at the end," he said.

But that idea ignited a mini-revolution among audience regulars Monday night.

"We always had this," resident Robert Reynolds said during the first comment period Monday. "After the council spoke, the taxpayers had a right to speak on the motion that was before them."

Town Board meetings are held in public, but there is no requirement to allow the public to speak during a regular meeting. Most municipal boards set aside a time in their meetings to hear from their constituents, however. Hamburg is somewhat unique in that residents can raise their hands in the middle of the meeting and speak on the question when they are recognized. It's a practice that has been going on in Hamburg for nearly 40 years or longer.

Reynolds said the taxpayers should have a right to speak after the board has discussed an item.

"It's too late at the end of the meeting to make a comment," he said.

Joe Kilian, president of the Hamburg Taxpayers Association, said it sometimes is difficult to make comments or suggestions before board members discuss how they feel about a measure.

"I don't like it," Kilian said of the new way.

Reynolds, a former Erie County legislator, even invoked the name of the late Steve Strnad, a taxpayer watchdog who attended Town Board meetings for more than 40 years. Strnad often asked how much a certain proposal would cost, or if employees to be appointed lived in Hamburg.

"Steve Strnad, a great Republican, right now would be rolling over, because he would comment on things and make sure that he understood what was happening on our taxpayers dollars," said Reynolds, a Democrat. "These are our taxpayer dollars. You're making decisions, we should have a little say on them."

Shaw said Tuesday he was now "betwixt and between" on whether to change the policy. He said he wanted the change to help move the meetings along and to allow emotions to cool before comments were made.

"I might want to go back to the old way to keep everybody reasonably content," he said, adding he would poll board members to get their input. "I want to give people as much chance as they possibly can to comment and critique us."

New Hamburg supervisor sets tone at first meeting: 'I'm not getting rolled over'

 

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