At the multitude of community board meetings that occur every month throughout the city, public comment is allowed. Sometimes no one shows up to voice an opinion, but at other times not even the two-minute speaking limit can keep a meeting from lasting for hours. New Yorkers take their opportunity to talk.
And now the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), which is unlike a community board in many ways, has acquiesced to residents’ calls for the chance to speak at the monthly meetings. At its next meeting, in late November or early December, time will be set aside for up to 10 community members to weigh in.
“Senator [Daniel] Squadron had approached the board and asked us to reconsider the decision we had made in June, and Chairman [Dennis] Mehiel is a man of his word,” said Nick Sbordone, a spokesman for the authority. This summer, elected officials and Battery Park residents organized a town hall to push for public comment at the board’s meetings, which until now have only allowed written testimony to be submitted.
Justine Cucchia, a public member of Community Board 1 and resident of Battery Park City, is pleased that some progress is being made.
“This is a wonderful step,” she said. But there is more she would like to see done. Of the seven authority members, only one lives in Battery Park City. Two of the seven seats are currently vacant. A petition Cucchia helped start for another Battery Park City resident to be appointed has more than 2,500 signatures. According to Sbordone, “The choice of candidates for the board is entirely within the purview of the governor with a confirmation process in the senate.”
Those who wish to speak at a board meeting must fill out a form on the authority’s website by 5:30 p.m. the day before and say what they would like to speak about. There will be a two-minute time limit on speaking for up to 10 people. Mehiel stressed that the BPCA agenda would be available a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the meeting so people would have time to consider it. At last Wednesday’s meeting, before the decision was made official, the board discussed whether the public should be allowed to speak about anything they want or whether they should only speak about items on the agenda.
“We’re going to get beat up,” Mehiel joked.
Member Martha Gallo, however, said she didn’t think that would be the case. “Not necessarily,” she said. “I think we’re going to hear what’s on people’s minds. We should give it a shot for a quarter.”
As significant as this step may be to the residents who have fought for it, Mehiel reminded the authority that they “retain the right as a board to change this policy for any reason or no reason.”
“That’s critical,” he added.
In the BPCA’s press release announcing the new policy, several elected officials expressed their support.
“I am pleased that the Battery Park City Authority agreed to post agendas in advance and allow community members to provide public comment at Board meetings, as we have long encouraged,” Assembly Member Deborah Glick said. “This momentous change will allow community members to have an active role in the community they helped build.”
Anthony Notaro, chair of Community Board 1, also called the move a positive sign. Among the issues that community members will likely want to bring up at the next BPCA meeting, Notaro listed a redesign of South End Avenue and “being able to have a voice as a stakeholder.”
“The authority has often made decisions and we learn about them after the fact,” he said.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org