City council debates changes to rules and regulations

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 2/14/24

The Newburgh City Council unanimously voted to postpone indefinitely the resolution on revised Rules and Procedures during the regular meeting on Monday, February 12. The Rules and Procedures …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

City council debates changes to rules and regulations


The Newburgh City Council unanimously voted to postpone indefinitely the resolution on revised Rules and Procedures during the regular meeting on Monday, February 12. The Rules and Procedures proposal document outlines the specified actions that are carried out by the council and the various portions of the city council meeting.

The proposed revised rules and procedures were first presented at the work session on Thursday, Feb. 8. The revisions were tabled from the previous regular Council meeting on Jan. 22. According to Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson, the item would appear as an old business item on the agenda Monday night.

The document presented to the council included the proposed revisions. One was Rule 7, “Guidelines for Public Comment, Section A”:“The public shall be allowed to speak only during the Public Comment period of the meeting and only during the time allotted or at such other time as the presiding officer may propose subject to a majority vote of the Council.” Rule 7 Section B, Bullet 10 reads: “The maximum time allotted for the public comment period is one hour. The allotted time may be extended by majority vote of the Council.”

The proposed Rule 9, “Rules for Public Hearings point B,” reads that each speaker’s remarks will be limited to three minutes instead of five and point G reads that “The maximum time allotted for a public hearing is one hour. The allotted time may be extended by majority vote of the Council.”

Kelson also made the council aware that after the January meeting a suggestion to the rules and procedures included the elimination of the final council comments. The suggestion was not added at this time but the proposal would require an ordinance amendment to the city code.

During the remainder of the Feb. 8 work session, a heated discussion took place between the mayor and members of the executive staff.

“I’ve been on the city council since 2016. I’m beyond eight years on the city council and I was very much a part of the city council when things were dysfunctional and these, rules and procedures were not as clearly defined and outlined and they weren’t changed with the frequency that I’m experiencing now,” said Harvey. “It makes me as the mayor of the city and the chair of the council uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable when as the chair and mayor of the city I haven’t been informed of these changes and the want or the need, so there’s a breakdown in communication through my office. We really need to be careful in my opinion about amending our rules and procedures on a frequent basis because it becomes a slippery slope.”

Kelson took the opportunity to respond to the mayor. “With a new change in council, this is the time if the council wants to do it, that’s fine. The revisions that have been proposed are not mine. They did not come from me, they did not come from the city manager. These proposals either came from you Mayor Harvey or from your colleagues,” said Kelson. “All I did was try to effectuate a method by which they could be discussed. The council can do what the council wishes to do. I am not passing judgment, I am not suggesting, I am not recommending. None of this was my initiative.”

At the Thursday work session, Harvey also expressed concerns about the executive office with regards to the proposed recommendations to which City Manager Todd Venning responded, saying, “Your council members do not need your permission or anyone’s permission to address anything. They can talk to the lawyer, they can talk to the city manager.”

However, it was a different tone prior to the vote Monday night as council members expressed their thoughts and opinions. “I think that limiting a public comment to one hour, not only would be bad optics for us, but also would make the public feel that they cannot come and speak to us. This is the only time that they are able to come to our meetings and address us in person,” said Councilwoman Giselle Martinez.

“I agree that we’re not on the same page with this and it seems that we are divided with this matter. We don’t want to limit the voice of our constituents and I think that’s really, really important,” said Councilman Rob McLymore. “Technically, you put me in this seat so I want to make sure that I hear you, you know, within reason.”

“I’m ready to move on this however, I think we can amend it and I think we’re getting a little focused on the comments of the community. I’m willing to amend that,” said Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde. “I know many nights, we’ve stayed till midnight, listening to our constituents and the community coming out, you know, to discuss and tell us what their concerns are. I’m willing to do away with the last comments in the evening.”

“I was elected to do a job and our job is basically to make two meetings a month. That’s all our job basically is. So If I gotta stay here overnight and listen to the people and get whatever needs to be done, done then that’s what we do,” said Councilman Omari Shakur. “ If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t sign up for these jobs.”

“I think it makes sense to limit it [public comment] to an hour. What it also contains is the language that the council can just simply vote to extend it if there’s a big line out the door, and we need to hear from more people. So we have that ability to do that with the languages currently proposed,” said Councilman Robert Sklarz.

“I remember the days when it was me and Lillie Howard and that was horrible. We’d sit there and we really wanted to be involved and do things and now the crowds that come to the council meetings now show that we have a community that cares,” said Councilwoman Patty Sofokles. “I think the people should have their voice. I enjoy it, I really do. And I thank all of you for coming out and doing what you do.”

Harvey said, “I want to first thank everyone on the city council for debating and putting this forward, because it’s a challenge. The people’s voice is very important and I don’t think there should be any limitations on the public comment. I don’t think there should be any one-hour limit. In terms of restricting the chairperson’s or the mayor’s discretionary ability to break protocol, which is what the contention was this past Thursday, it sets a new precedent. I think we should continue to have discussion about this. I don’t think we’re prepared for a vote. I don’t think we’re prepared to amend, I think we’re prepared to table it again, until we can all come together respectfully, and figure out how we can agree on these changes.”