The Manlius Town Board voted unanimously Wednesday, Sept. 28, to suspend public comment from the meeting agenda for 30 days. Supervisor Ed Theobald said during that time he will study the public comment period and report on ways to improve it at the Oct. 26 meeting.
Theobald said certain individuals have used the public comments period to discuss business not related to town government since before his time, and that has to change. The current rules of decorum were designed in 2007 and revised in January 2008. Theobald started as supervisor in January 2010.
“Basically we felt that the direction that was taken by residents when they were speaking has changed since [then],” Theobald said, adding that some residents have used the public comment time to air personal attacks against elected officials.
Theobald would not name any individuals, but said that “if individuals felt it was directed toward them, maybe there is a reason they felt that way.”
Joe Novek, of Bluffview Drive, Manlius, has regularly attended and spoken at town board meetings for the past nine years. He said he feels targeted by the suspension of public comment.
“When you have a government body or society that restricts any type of freedom of speech, they’re doing something wrong, or they don’t want to hear what those people have to say,” Novek said. “The town of Manlius does not want to hear the truth.”
Novek said he and other residents are considering starting a forum online where anyone can “speak their mind freely without censorship. Only citizens, not town officials.”
Theobald said town board meetings were originally meant for the board to conduct town business, with the public only in attendance as observers.
“This is defined in New York State open meetings law,” he said. “It is not for the public to voice their opinion regarding what they disagree with. That’s why we have elections. If residents disagree with the board’s direction, then they should get on a ballot.”
Theobald and councilors John Loeffler, Sandy Schepp and Nick Marzola as well as town clerk Allison Edsall, highway superintendent Rob Cushing and town justice Sal Pavone are all up for re-election Nov. 8. All candidates are running uncontested.
Theobald said that during the 30-day period, residents can submit their comments in writing to the town clerk’s office. The requests must include the topic of discussion. Comments on topics deemed relevant to the board will be added to the agenda, Theobald said.