It happened without discussion, and it almost passed without notice. But a new policy established by the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday night now limits the ability of taxpayers and the general public to participate in government and stifles public discussion before sometimes important decisions are made.
For the first time in at least a decade, the early portion of the village board meeting passed without an opportunity for public input. When business owner Nada Barry — who has maybe missed a handful of meetings in the last several decades — asked why, she was informed that public input would only occur at the end of the meeting. The problem with that format — and it’s a very big problem — is that by taking away public comment at the beginning of the meeting the board has removed the opportunity for residents to ask questions about agenda items before the board decides on those particular issues. Curious what the request for proposals for cell phone towers entails? Too bad. Can’t ask until the board has already voted to move forward. Wondering about that sports camp setting up shop in Marine Park this summer and the impact it could have on neighboring slips? Apparently not your concern — it is going to be decided before you even have an opportunity to weigh in.
Compounding this problem is the fact that this board meets so infrequently. It holds one monthly meeting, and outside of budget workshops and special meetings like Grievance Day, it has held just a handful of meaningful work sessions in recent years. Residents are already limited in their ability to communicate with this body in public forum, and now even more so. Even worse, there are times when important agenda items — even the introduction of new laws — are discussed with precious few details offered. Communication, or more precisely, the lack of it, is the Achilles’ heel of this village board.
Removing the ability for taxpayers and the public at large to ask questions in public about agenda items before they are decided upon is an insult. It tells residents that their opinions are neither important nor valued.