Last night I, along with 59 others, attended our town’s board meeting. It pains me to say it was a clear expression of what democracy does not look like.
First, after the building inspector announced that the building could house no more than 60 people, and that we were at that exact capacity, he soon after jumped up from his seat to stop the 61st person from entering the building; this, after our supervisor was politely advised by a number of citizens earlier this week that we were anticipating an over-capacity crowd and could we possibly make accommodations in the fire house next door, which is our right. (See section 103 (d) of the Open Meetings Law, “Public bodies shall make or cause to be made all reasonable efforts to ensure that meetings are held in an appropriate facility which can adequately accommodate members of the public who wish to attend such meetings.”)
Second, although I totally agree with our supervisor that meetings should at all times be conducted with dignity and respect for our fellow citizens, that does not mean that people should be restricted from speaking. When a woman sitting in front of me raised her hand to make a comment, she was quickly denied that right. We were all advised that anyone who wanted to speak had to first sign in as a speaker, but then, when it came time for public comments, those who had signed in were only given three minutes each, and anyone that needed clarification on any of the topics discussed had no ability to have questions answered—and, believe me, there were a lot of unanswered questions.
There is not enough room here to address all the unanswered questions that came out of last night’s meeting, but I believe the most important questions deal with how a so-called commission on gas drilling is going to work:
1. How will it be decided who will sit on the commission?
2. Will the public have access to the commission meetings?
3. What exactly will the commission be tasked with?
4. Will gas drilling questions no longer be addressed at town board meetings once a commission is formed?
5. If the resolution is not rescinded before the commission’s formation and first few meetings, will the state be able to prioritize drilling applications in the Town of Delaware because we have already, undemocratically, adopted a pro-fracking resolution?
These are only a few of the many unanswered questions that this citizen alone had; just imagine how many other questions remained unanswered from the 59 others—and the one gentleman who was forced to stand outside the door.
We all agree that the topic of gas drilling has become a divisive subject in a town that, no matter how long each of us has lived here, we all love and are a part of, but no Town of Delaware Board ever in the past, currently or in the future has ever been faced with a bigger, more important, life-changing decision. All citizens have a right not only to be heard, but to get clarification.
[Millie Cassese is a resident of Callicoon in the Town of Delaware, NY.]