Respect was the recurring theme of the night at the Herkimer County Legislature’s meeting held on Wednesday night.
During a meeting for the Committee of Administration and Veterans’ Affairs, legislators discussed possibilities ranging from doing away with the public comment period completely to requiring concerned residents to contact their district legislator to be granted approval to speak.
The full Herkimer County Legislature will vote on July 11 on whether or not to move the public commenting period to the end of the meetings.
Within the Order of Business, the rules state public comment is limited to five minutes per speaker for a maximum of 20 minutes. By moving the comment period to the end of the meeting residents would be required to keep their comments to themselves until the very end of the meeting.
“We’re here to do the business of Herkimer County and we should not be held responsible for the people who disturb the meetings,” said Legislator, Patrick E. Russell. “I think that what people are forgetting is that the meetings are for the discussion of the Herkimer County Legislature.”
“We need to stop building a wall between legislators and citizens and stand up for the rights of those who wish to speak.” said Legislator Gary Hartman.
One major concern during the meeting was the issue of county employees being publicly attacked by citizens.
“I will not allow our county employees to be attacked,” said Legislature Chairman Vincent J. Bono. “We’ve had instances when an employee’s trust, honesty and ability was questioned.” He added, “If this continues I will not stand for it and the individuals who choose to make attacks will be escorted out.”
Legislator Bernard Peplinski Sr. further addressed the issue. “The best possibility to end attacks on county employees is to completely eliminate the public comment session,” he said, adding, “It’s deteriorated into a fiasco, and I see no advantage in keeping it.”
Legislator Helen T. Rose commented on Peplinski’s remark, saying, “I think it’s interesting that we live with in the period of time that we should be thin skinned. I think what’s happening is an overreaction to some people’s discomfort.”
“If you’re in this business you should be able to take some criticism,” said Hartman. “I learned a lot of things from the people. Let them speak, if they make a mistake then we can correct them and if there is a point to defend don’t be afraid to do so.”
“We’re here to do the peoples’ business and it’s their right to speak,” said Legislator Robert Schrader. “We were voted here by them. The word is respect, give the people respect.”
In the past, Herkimer Community College has broadcast the Legislature’s meetings, but during May and since then HCCC did not broadcast them. A few legislators thought the public was being shortchanged.
Page 2 of 2 - HCCC President, Dr. Ann Marie Murray said, the reason there was no broadcast was due to staffing issues. “The running of the public access station is an operational issue under the college that needs to be further investigated.” Murray said, adding that it has nothing to do with posting issues.
Although HCCC was not present for a broadcast, the Concerned Citizens for a Better Herkimer County was present for a web broadcast.