JAMESTOWN – A Jamestown resident who’s addressed the Jamestown City Council on numerous occasions was back at city hall Monday night to voice his concern about what he feels is a lack of engagement between elected city officials and the public.
Resident Doug Champ appeared at the city council’s work session to share his thoughts on a recent Post-Journal editorial (“Lack of Local Voice at City Council Sessions Speaks Volumes” – July 15, 2018), which pointed out a lack of community interest and involvement at city council meetings.
Champ said he feels that part of the problem is that the meetings can be intimidating for residents who don’t typically attend. In addition, the voting session meetings are set up to not allow a conversation or discussion between council members and those who show up to speak to them.
“It’s important to note that council voting sessions are just public commentary. We don’t have a chance to enter into discussion. It’s you looking at us, us looking at you, and us talking to you. That’s it.” Champ pointed out.
Champ said another reason why some residents might not want to show up is out of fear of reprimand. He said if they are involved with or a member of a city board, agency or commission – even in a voluntary capacity – there could be consequences if they choose to show up and criticize or speak against a particular initiative or policy put forward by the mayor or council. Champ said he believes this is what happened to him. He served on the city’s Riverfront Management Council, but after criticizing the 2017 city budget process not following the city charter, the annexation proposal involving the BPU substation property in Falconer, as well as the proposed sale of the city Wastewater Treatment Plant to the Jamestown Local Development Corporation,he was not reappointed to the council at the start of this year.
“My point is this to all you city council members: No thought, no questions, no alternatives, and no suggestions allowed from civic volunteers in Jamestown. Forward on as you see fit,” he said.
To help increase public participation, Champ suggested the council members may want to consider holding meetings within each ward to share details of initiatives and proposals and also allow for interactive conversation and discussion with the community. He also suggested the council members hold regular officer hours, even on a limited basis, so constituents can come in and talk with them at another time other than a Monday night, in order to bring forward questions and concerns in a less formal environment.
Champ did have more to say on the matter, however after about seven minutes of addressing the council members, he was told by the city council president Marie Carrubba to wrap up his comments. Considering the issue that he brought forward, it’s worth noting that no questions or response from any council member was provided following the conclusion of his comments.
While rules are in place that all-but-prohibit discussion and interaction with members of the public at most city council voting sessions, there are no rules prohibiting discussion and interaction with attendees at a city council work session.
Following the meeting, city councilman Tony Dolce (Ward 2) spoke with Champ and also explained to WRFA that he feels the council members do have good communication with the public, based on the numerous phone calls, emails, and personal conversations they have with constituents on a weekly basis.
Later in the meeting under new business, councilman Andrew Liuzzo (R-At Large) did offer a suggestion that council members help participate in a school supply drive later this year at C.C. Ring School in Jamestown so they can meet with and talk to constituents while also discussing issues involving the city. Councilwoman Kim Ecklund (R-At Large) said that such an event may conflict with a similar drive that is already coordinated by the Axemen New York Chapter 4 Motorcycle Club at the same time of year.