Buried within the three-page resolution is a warning to those who might use public comment to criticize specific Councilors or staff.
In response to last month’s outpouring of concerns and criticism regarding the City’s handling of the Geneva Foundry cleanup, City Manager Matt Horn is offering a proposed resolution titled “RESOLUTION #17 – ADDRESSING PUBLIC CONCERNS RELATED TO THE FORMER GENEVA FOUNDRY SITE.” This resolution is attached to the May 3, 2017 City Council Agenda posted on the City’s website, and begins on page 4.
Unsurprisingly, the Resolution affirms that the City did everything they were supposed to do regarding the Foundry cleanup, laying the blame solely at the feet of the DEC for failing to create a cleanup plan after supposedly being given the necessary information from the city.
Of course, this is a misdirection. Current City Councilor Gordon Eddington knew about the contamination for decades, yet didn’t inform the public. It’s certainly likely that other city employees knew about the contamination, but failed to warn residents.
Whether or not the DEC dragged their feet in beginning the cleanup is irrelevant to the fact that Eddington knew about the contamination of residential properties and did not warn residents.
Some unnerving portions of the resolution relate to City Council public comment procedure:
“WHEREAS, to the extent the residents have concerns about the handling of former Geneva Foundry site, such concerns should be directed at City Council, and not specific Council Members and/or City Staff, as required by the Rules and Procedures of Geneva City Council;”
It appears that this section of the resolution is being proposed specifically in response to the April Council meeting during which Councilor Eddington was confronted multiple times during public comment for his failure to inform residents of lead and arsenic dangers for decades. It’s clear that the City Manager would like to protect Leaddington from having to deal directly and personally with any future comments from poisoned, terrified and angry residents.
Rather than allow the public the opportunity to voice their concerns to the one Councilor who has direct knowledge of the Foundry issue, the City Manager has taken it upon himself to protect Leaddington from any uncomfortable confrontations.
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Presiding Officer will remind the public that the Rules and Procedures for Geneva City Council require that all remarks be addressed to the City Council as a whole and not to any individual member thereof; and the Presiding Officer will not allow the public to state any personal attacks on any City Council or staff;”
This might be the most unsettling message of all.
For years, public commenters have often taken the opportunity to publicly criticize the actions of specific Councilors and City staff, and it’s never been much of an issue until now. If a public official is failing to fulfill their duties in the opinion of a taxpaying resident, that resident must be allowed to share those opinions with Council without fearing that the Mayor will arbitrarily decide that the criticism is a “personal attack” and hold that citizen in violation of Council Rules and Procedures.
Specifically criticizing the job performance of a city official is NOT a personal attack. Substituting abusive language or comments unrelated to the specific job performance IS a personal attack.
Empowering a Mayor who has shown that he has little desire to hear the public’s concerns during public comment (as evidenced by his changing the public comment format last year and his almost-comical use of a beeping three-minute timer during public comment) to use his judgment to decide whether a comment criticizing city staff or Council violates the Rules and Procedures of Council meetings is a disturbing proposition.
This resolution also holds major implications for the Angelina Marino situation. If a citizen wants to comment on the issue to City Council, will they be told that commenting on Marino’s documented domestic violence behavior (and the subsequent failure of authorities to address the issue) falls under the “personal attacks” umbrella? It wouldn’t be surprising if residents are prevented from offering an opinion on Marino’s ability to do her job as a Councilor due to her past history of violence, intimidation, and poor judgment.
“Timely” Responses To FOIL Requests?
On page 2, you’ll find this:
“WHEREAS, City Council timely responded to numerous Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”) requests to provide its documents related to the former Geneva Foundry property, and understands those are widely distributed to the public;”
On December 17th, 2016 (a Saturday), I submitted a FOIL request to the City of Geneva for specific documents related to the Geneva Foundry.
I received an acknowledgment on the following Monday stating that the request was received and that I would receive a response within 5 business days, as required by FOIL. On the fifth business day, pursuant to §89(3)(a) of the Freedom of Information Law, the City of Geneva was required to provide an approximate date when my request will be granted or denied.
“We are continuing to develop documents relative to your request. We will contact you as soon as the information is available for release.”
At this point, according to FOIL law, the City was required to give an approximate date, which they did not. I emailed them AGAIN, asking for an estimated date as required by FOIL law, and was told the documents would be available “on or around January 13th.”
The City of Geneva is required by FOIL to provide all requested documents within 20 business days of acknowledgment of reciept, unless more time is required, in which case the city must notify the requestor that more time was needed. Because January 13th was within the 20 business day timeframe required by law, I waited for a response.
January 13th came and went, and I received no response.
The 20 business day deadline, January 18th, came and went, with no response.
After the 21st business day had elapsed, I sent yet another email on the evening of January 19th requesting an update.
The next morning, I received an email stating that the documents were ready and waiting for my review at City Hall.
Did the City fulfill my FOIL request? Yes, eventually.
Did they do it in a “timely” manner, in accordance with FOIL guidelines? Absolutely NOT.
They let every deadline pass by and waited for me to email them so I could receive the updates that they were required to provide according to Freedom of Information Law.
While I imagine that City Hall employees might not all be well-versed in FOIL, the fact is that the City of Geneva did not respond to my requests in a timely fashion, and did not treat my FOIL request and its related deadlines very seriously at all.
Not All Bad News: Camera Requests Discussion On Rules Of Procedure
During the Council reports segment of the April 5th Council meeting, 4th Ward Councilor Ken Camera expressed a clear dissatisfaction with the current public comment format at City Council meetings. Camera stated that he is troubled that “we cut people off at three minutes,” and that splitting public comment into two segments was a “a bad compromise. We have got to get back to our democracy.”
The May 3rd Council Agenda includes, under “Unfinished Business,” a “Discussion Regarding Rules of Procedure: Presented by Councilor Camera,” during which Camera will be asking Council review the current public comment format (which has been in place for about one year) and discuss whether any changes need to be made.
If you would like to participate in one or both public comment segments (first segment for agenda-related comments only, second segment for all comments) during the upcoming May 3rd Council meeting, please arrive early to sign up. Signup cards are located on the podium. Or, you can sign up by going to following link: