NIAGARA FALLS – The City Council majority plans to forge ahead with plans to change its meeting times despite outcries from the public.
Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian said that the decision has been made to change the time of the 4 p.m. work sessions and 7 p.m. regular meetings to 5 p.m. for both sessions.
That decision outraged members of the public who packed Council Chambers early this week to protest the decision, saying the earlier start time makes it more difficult for them to have their say at meetings.
Residents are required to sign up in advance of the sessions if they want to speak.
If the meetings start at 5 p.m., some complained, they would have to leave work early to register.
“I must say, gentlemen, you have a knack for turning things upside down every other week, mainly to suit yourselves and not the general public,” said Niagara Falls Block Club leader Norma Higgs. “Maybe it ‘flows better’ for you, but it is certainly inconvenient for the citizens who are either on their way home from work or getting ready for dinner.”
Higgs and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, who voted against the measure, said the timing of the change was unusual, given a recent uptick in citizen participation in meetings, especially from those who have been critical of Council funding cuts.
Grandinetti and Councilman Charles Walker suggested approving a temporary time change for the meetings – perhaps for a couple of weeks – to try the new times out and to allow a public hearing to gauge citizen sentiment on the matter.
“Especially after hearing from the public, because that’s who we work for,” Walker said. “We should be making the meetings convenient for you.”
But Walker’s attempt to call a public hearing on the matter was denied by Choolokian and Councilmen Sam Fruscione and Robert Anderson Jr., who voted to change the meeting times Monday night without further public input.
Later, Choolokian said the people calling for a later meeting time were “the same people who supported the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, the block clubs and the Niagara Beautification Commission” at recent meetings.
He went on to say that the Council had received compliments from residents after it changed the time of a recent meeting because of a scheduling conflict, adding that the meeting “just worked better, it flowed better.”
“Time doesn’t matter,” he added. “If it’s important, they’ll be here.”
The decision even upset residents who normally endorse the actions of the three-man Council majority.
“I think it’s terrible,” said resident Diane Tattersall. “This is not nice. I usually support the Council majority, but I don’t support this.”
The councilmen said a time change would make it easier for department heads to attend the meetings, and Choolokian said it would push Mayor Paul A. Dyster – who doesn’t attend the later sessions – to attend. That suggestion also drew boos from the crowd.
The new time change will go into effect April 1. Work sessions will begin at 5 p.m., and the public meetings will begin 15 minutes after the work sessions end.