Reserving for a moment my reaction to “Residents speak out on lack of public input during Village of Great Neck meetings,” let me take the opportunity to officially welcome Robert Pelaez to his new role as reporter at the Great Neck News.
I encourage him and all reading this to avail themselves of the minutes available online on our website, www.GreatNeckVillage.org and the YouTube video recordings of our Board of Trustees meetings, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCerJqj7FzeAXMx0z3Pi9J2g, live-streamed in the interest of the Board of Trustees’ collective mission to provide transparency to the public, above and beyond of what is required by law. Every action by the Village is recorded.
With respect to what is required by law, I personally conveyed to Mr. Pelaez in a phone conversation on Tuesday, December 24, prior to going to the press, an explanation of the New York State Open Meetings Law, in response to his email, Subject: VGN article on lack of public comment, requesting to “Provide or direct me to someone who has access to the village code in regard to open meeting laws and discussions.”
I explained that it is not a village code but in fact, New York State Law that we as a village follow, and are in compliance with.
Let me reiterate. Open Meetings Law is a New York State law that requires legislative bodies (like Village Boards of Trustees) to conduct their business “publicly,” i.e., “in front of” the public. Open Meetings Law does not require that the public be allowed to join in the deliberative process.
As a matter of policy and good government, and in the Board of Trustees’ interest of promoting transparency, the Board of Trustees and I invite public input on many issues, and for that reason, the Board of Trustees, mirroring many governing bodies, including local villages, designates public comment at the end of the meeting.
That many Village of Great Neck meetings have been lengthy, at times unwieldy, adjourning after midnight and leaving many, including staff physically depleted, is testimony to the great lengths the Board of Trustees has gone to in order to provide a generous forum for public comment.
Mr. Pelaez’s assertion that “Two Board meetings on Dec 3 and 17 spanned more than eight hours combined,” is true, and that’s where the facts end. To advance in print what you claim, “some are referring to as a ‘gag order,’” is not only a disgrace it’s absurd.
Had you viewed the hours upon hours of streaming video, you would see what the facts are. The Board entertains hours upon hours of public input, consistent with our roles as elected officials.
It’s unfortunate that Robert Pelaez’s account of the meeting describes “input from residents as peppered throughout,” as if to suggest it was insignificant, limited and sparse.
In fact, the meeting of Dec. 3, which included public comment on many agenda items throughout the meeting, actually concluded with public comment on 777 MNR from 13 individuals, residents and non-residents alike, some returning to the podium several times, over and over again to comment on the same agenda item.
Following that, the Board took no action on the item. Approaching midnight, after no one else wanted to comment, the Board adjourned the meeting and moved the remaining agenda items to the Dec. 17 meeting. There was no individual public comment portion because the public already commented extensively and exhaustively. No one else was present, including Robert Pelaez.
The board returned to the following meeting on Dec. 17 with an extensive agenda including two new business items, 733 Middle Neck Road, and 523 Middle Neck Road, as well as the tabled items from the previous board meeting.
At the commencement, so as to restore order to the meeting, and to avoid a 7:30 p.m. meeting nearing its end at midnight, again, the Board of Trustees announced their decision to enforce their policy, previously not adhered to, to hold public comment to the end of the meeting, and to limit those comments to 3 minutes, just as most local government boards do.
Both 733 MNR and 523 MNR were agenda items that were titled hearings. The application for 733 MNR was prematurely presented, and rendered by the Board of Trustees, an incomplete application.
Hence, no comment from the public was appropriate at that time. The latter, 523 Middle Neck Road was complete and was before the Board for hearing. The public commented, the board opined and voted to approve and the project will return for permits following plans and studies being vetted by the county.
Heightened emotions flared a large part due to the lack of understanding of the difference between a hearing and a public hearing.
An application, as part of an agenda item, that is being heard is referred to as a hearing and does not necessitate public input. A “public hearing” is entirely different.
The phrase “public hearing” refers to a requirement for public input on particular topics on which state law requires that a legislative body hears from the public before making a decision, e.g., before enacting a new local law, or adoption of a budget.
When the law requires that kind of “public hearing,” the public has a right to be heard, although the length of time allocated to individual speakers is left to the legislative body’s discretion.
It has been a courtesy of this administration to hear public comment on every issue.
The board’s decision to reign in enforcement of the public comment at the end of the meeting, coupled with misinformation regarding a hearing versus a public hearing, is a large part the genesis for the misinformation and commotion.
It was a lost opportunity of this publication to educate readers. Why quell the fires when you can stoke it with outrageous assertions? Conflict sells papers.
I would expect those residents quoted, who publicly thanked the board for staying so late to accommodate questions from the public (see aforementioned video link), to be consistent in their narrative on their social media platforms.
Condemning the village for what you gratefully acknowledged accomplishes nothing more than stirring up dissent. Moreover, I would expect a member of the press to perform his due diligence with an aim to craft a well-researched article rather than just creating content. Your job is to inform.
Newly assigned to the Village of Great Neck beat, going forward I truly hope you can truly be a blank slate with a view of objective reality.
Pedram Bral M.D.
Mayor, Village of Great Neck