A local resident requested “more government transparency” and uniformity when it comes to public access to city government meetings during the first Common Council meeting of the new year Wednesday held via Webex.
During the public comment portion of the regular meeting, Bobbie O’Brien, of Martin Drive, said she had spoken to the Common Council in the past about the “myriad of different actions” that must be taken in order to participate in city government board meetings. She reminded council members that meeting online “is not new” since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet there are still challenges when trying to access meetings or give public comment to be read during meetings in advance.
O’Brien specifically addressed the Jan. 4 Planning Board meeting, where the livestream link for the meeting posted on the board’s website was outdated from November, and that the public Webex call-in code to access the meeting had also not been updated on the site.
She also referenced how some boards post access information to meetings directly onto their agenda, while others instead post it on the web page.
As for last week’s Planning Board meeting, “The public did not have the correct information” to dial in or access via livestream, “just board members and the petitioners” were able to access the meeting,” O’Brien said.
She further stated that for Board of Estimate and Contract meetings, when they are held in Council Chambers, it’s difficult for the public to access them when City Hall doors don’t open until 8:30 a.m., which is when the meetings begin. “Sometimes the meetings last fewer than five minutes,” O’Brien added.
Also, she said that for this month’s Common Council meeting agenda the city switched to Google Docs to access documents, rather than having a simple “right click” on the website to open them. She then requested that the Common Council consider forming a committee to address the issues and to include members of the community so that the public may provide feedback.
In councilor reports that followed, Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers said from a “communication perspective” she agreed with O’Brien, and when it comes to city boards and departments, “there needs to be some consistency.”
Rogers stated that for this month’s meeting of the Planning Board, members didn’t include needed information on the agenda about a proposed WellNow urgent care planned for Mohawk Acres Plaza.
“For the Planning Board agenda this time, we had to reach out to the mayor and (Deputy Director of Community & Economic Development) Matt Andrews about the urgent care facility — we didn’t know anything about it,” said Rogers. “There was no address provided for the facility or supporting documents. I think it would be beneficial to come up with some consistency, particularly on the public comment side for the three other boards.”
She said, “I would be happy to work on it from a Laws and Rules perspective if other councilors would like to do that with me, and maybe get some participation from people like Ms. O’Brien and others who normally participate” in meetings.
Common Council President Stephanie Viscelli said she also agreed with O’Brien, emphasizing the need for consistency, and that depending on the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID, the council would like to once again start hosting meetings at City Hall.
“We hope the next meeting is in-person,” Viscelli said.
In other business, the following actions were unanimously approved:
• Resolution 6: Determining that action to undertake certain projects will not have a significant effect on the environment and abide by environmental regulations.
• Resolution 7: Delegating the authority under General Municipal Law to Chief Thomas Iacovissi of the City of Rome Fire Department to authorize additional training for firefighters.
• Resolution 8: Appointing City Planner Garret Wyckoff as a representative to serve on the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank Board.
• Resolution 9: Authorizing the assessor of the City of Rome to grant certain tax exemptions relative to the 2022 assessment roll without requiring applications.
• Ordinance 9491: Authorizing the issuance of city bonds not to exceed $335,000 to finance the cost of various capital projects including the purchase of equipment for construction and maintenance to include a Bobcat Skid Steer, street sweeper and 25-ton tag trailer.
• Ordinance 9492: Authorizing Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo to approve the sale of a city-owned parcel on Lauther Road for $600.
• Ordinance 9493: Authorizing the mayor to approve the sale of a city-owned parcel on Lauther Road for $600.
• Ordinance 9494: Authorizing the placement of a “No Truck Traffic” sign on the corner of East Dominick and Sixth streets. First Ward Councilor John M. Sparace said a tractor trailer traveling at the corner recently clipped a utility pole and damaged wires, while truck traffic in the area had already been an issue expressed by neighbors.
• Ordinance 9495: Authorizing the acquisition of a portion of parcel 273.00-3.3, and temporary easements for access at no cost to the city for the purpose of constructing a replacement culvert with the state Department of Transportation over Wheelers Creek.
During a brief organization meeting that convened shortly before the regular council meeting, the following were unanimously approved:
• Resolution 1: Authorizing the mayor to attend various conferences during 2022.
• Resolution 2: Designating WKAL as the official radio station of the City of Rome.
• Resolution 3: Designating the Rome Daily Sentinel as the official newspaper of the City of Rome.
• Resolution 4: Appointment of President Pro Tempore of the Common Council of the City of Rome in case of the absence of Common Council President Viscelli. A motion was made and approved to appoint Third Ward Councilor Rogers.
• Resolution 5: Creating standing committees of the Common Council for the Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2023 term.