Council fracas underscores need for evening meetings

OPINION

By Scott Costen

There were a lot of unfamiliar faces at Region of Queens council this morning.

Some were there to oppose the expansion of fish farming in Liverpool Bay. Others were there to support Queens Day Care’s efforts to remain in its current location despite the eviction notice it received last year from the municipality.

It’s worth noting that neither of these topics were on the agenda for today’s meeting.

Cooke Aquaculture has already made its pitch to council and the general public regarding its expansion plans. And the fate of the former Mount Pleasant School is yet to be decided.

To their great credit, these people came to council and made their voices heard during the public comments portion of the meeting. Many of them were younger — by Queens County standards, at least — and likely required time off from work or other commitments. They took the time, made the effort and stood up for what they believe in.

If was therefore extremely disappointing to see them receive, not a warm welcome, but a condescending lecture and hostile remark from one of the public gallery regulars.

“I would love for some of these people who are so passionate about an individual cause to actually be passionate about everything that happens in this area,” the woman, who represents District 3 on the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC), remarked at the end of public comments. “You’re losing out on so much information by just coming out for one particular cause.”

Moments later, as the newbies filed out of the public gallery, the woman appeared to make a less-than-charitable remark about their lack of commitment to the entire meeting. A young man, who came to the meeting with his wife to express support for Queens Day Care, shot back at the PAC representative, whose appointment was extended by two years later in the meeting.

“Excuse me, we work full-time jobs,” he said. “I don’t appreciate that — judging us because we can’t come here as often as you … I’m here standing up for my child and now I’ve got to return to my job.”

It all lasted just a few moments, but this quarrel could have a chilling impact on those who were attending their first council meeting today — and on others who are now hearing about it on social media or by word of mouth.

This of course would be a shame. Citizen engagement is vitally important, especially among young people, who are desperately needed on committees and on council.

In my opinion, two things are required to remedy this unfortunate situation.

First, the PAC member should apologize to council and everyone who was in the public gallery at today’s meeting.

Second, council should look again at holding its meetings in the evening. This would allow more people, especially working people and those with young families, to attend. It would also give them an opportunity to serve on council, which in turn would give them a vote on who sits on municipal committees such as the PAC.

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