Brookhaven Town is tweaking its board meetings for the sake of efficiency.
Effective the first meeting of May, on May 12, town officials passed a resolution on Feb. 25 that moves the public hearing time to 6 p.m., from its previous 6:30 p.m. time slot. Public hearings used to follow a half-hour board adjournment, but now Brookhaven officials will no longer adjourn prior to the public hearing.
Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said moving the public hearing will not only help the meetings run smoothly, but also prevent attendees from waiting for the hearing to start. Shifting the time will also help the town save money, as it won’t need to pay Brookhaven employees, excluding management personnel, overtime.
“We don’t want to waste money,” Panico said. “Budgets are tight and we want the Town Board meetings to flow continuously like every governmental meeting should.”
But Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and residents alike said the time shift will limit community participation during public hearings.
The councilwoman was the only board member who voted against the proposal. She said in her three years in office, she’s witnessed residents running into town hall five minutes after public hearings begin.
“Public hearings are extremely important and we want as many people as possible to come in and be able to voice their opinions,” Cartright said. “Our public hearings here at the Town of Brookhaven are based on either zone changes [or projects based on specific properties], which will affect people in the immediate community.”
On many occasions, there are more Brookhaven employees in attendance in comparison to residents. Many residents also leave the meeting when the town takes a brief adjournment.
According to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto, zone changes and projects in a particular area or land use plans are brought before the respective civic association before reaching the town. While residents have three minutes to comment on the board’s resolution agenda during public comment, they have five minutes to comment on zone changes and similar issues pertaining to specific properties during public hearing.
Public hearings were initially scheduled for 6:30 p.m. during former Brookhaven Town Supervisor John LaValle’s five years in office. The civic associations requested the time slot to accommodate people’s schedules, Eaderesto said.
Recently, the town has received numerous complaints from senior citizens saying that they’d prefer earlier meetings because they don’t like to travel in the evening. But Mastic Beach resident Jim Gleason said seniors usually attend public hearings, or town board meetings in general, for certain hot-topic issues.
That’s not the case for all residents.
“There have been hearings that I’ve been involved in where people have said, ‘I just can’t get there. It’s too early,’” Gleason said of public hearings. “So if there are people who have trouble getting here at 6:30 p.m., they’re obviously more people who have trouble getting here at 6 p.m.”
But Panico said the town will see what works best and adjust accordingly.
“I think it’s a reasonable move [to change the public hearing time],” Panico said. “And if there’s a need to tweak the time in the future, everyone on [the] board is very reasonable.”