White Plains residents who want an additional outlet for their opinions to be heard won a victory last week.
Mayor Thomas Roach announced at the Jan. 28 special meeting that the Citizens to be Heard section of Common Council meetings will be broadcast on local cable television for the first time, beginning with the Feb. 4 meeting. “We’ll do it forever,” Roach said last week. “I’ve been researching it and there’s no reason to pass legislation to do that.”
Citizens to be Heard does not currently exist in the Municipal Code, Roach noted. The Common Council should vote to officially create Citizens to be Heard, but does not need to pass a law to state that portion of the meeting must be televised, he said. “Right now it’s just a custom,” he said. “We’ll make it an official part of what we do.”
Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona said she supported televising the Citizens to be Heard portion of Common Council meetings. But Lecuona said she and other residents had sought for years for the televising of Citizens to be Heard and were told by the mayor that the broadcasting the public comment had to be approved by legislation from the Common Council.
“At this point, let’s just do it,” Roach replied. “I never said it couldn’t be done and we could pass legislation. I have researched it. This has not been a great focus of mine, frankly. What we are broadcasting is not an actual meeting of the council, but rather the comments of residents who want to come in and be heard.”
Televising Citizens to be Heard makes sense because residents want to express their opinions to the people of White Plains as a whole, not just for council members, and Roach said he agrees with that portion of the meeting being broadcast.
Roach also said all work sessions, which are named Special Meetings in White Plains, from now on will also be telecast. The work sessions will be move to the chambers where the regular monthly Common Council meetings are held to provide for a more comfortable atmosphere for those attending the meetings and better sound and production quality to record and televise the meetings, Roach said.
There are no state laws that mandate the televising of municipal meetings and some villages do not broadcast them, Roach noted.
Roach is asking the Common Council to approve guidelines for public comments which would reflect standards typical for public meetings. Lecuona asked if the Common Council needed to take a formal vote on the public comments guidelines. Roach said the council could vote on the guidelines, but most municipalities in New York State do not take a formal vote.
Public comment periods should “let people have their say; address the body, not individuals; don’t talk to the audience. It’s basic stuff,” Roach said. His proposed guidelines follow what he has been doing to regulate public hearings during his years as mayor, Roach concluded.