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Battery Park City Authority Blasted for Banning Public Comment at Meetings

By Irene Plagianos | July 22, 2016 4:26pm | Updated on July 25, 2016 8:46am
 State Sen. Daniel Squadron called the BPCA 
State Sen. Daniel Squadron called the BPCA "woefully inadequate" for shutting out public comment.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

BATTERY PARK CITY —  State Senator Daniel Squadron is calling out the Battery Park City Authority — the state agency that oversees the neighborhood — for not allowing public comments at its public board meetings.

Squadron, who — along with other elected officials — has been pushing the BPCA to be more receptive to the opinions of residents, told the BPCA board this week that the lack of public comments at its meetings is "woefully inadequate."

The BPCA, a seven-member board, which has only one member who lives in Battery Park City, does not allow any public comment at its monthly public board meetings, a longtime point of contention for locals who feel they need better representation of community needs.

In the spring, Squadron, along with other elected officials, asked the board to change the policy. The board refused, but in June, said they would allow for written comments from the public — and allow elected officials to speak at board meetings, on behalf of the residents.

On Wednesday, Squadron used his first chance to speak at board meetings to tell the BPCA in person that they should change their no public comment policy.

"As I have said before, this was never about elected officials’ opportunity to be heard — we have many opportunities to be heard," Squadron said at the BPCA's monthly board meeting. "In light of the fact that the board is comprised primarily of members who do not reside in Battery Park City, it is especially important that local residents be allowed to share their local perspective directly with the board at these meetings."

Controversy has increasingly swirled around some of the agency's actions in recent months, including cutting Park Enforcement Patrol Officers in favor of private security without any community input and ousting a beloved operator of the North Cove Marina, along with the longtime executive director of the Battery Park City Conservancy. 

Squadron went on to list several concerns that had been passed along to him from residents, including calls for increased transparency and the need for public participation when it comes to major decisions related to things like housing and storm resiliency.

He also listed 22 other state and city agencies — including the MTA, Port Authority and Trust for Governor Island — that allow for periods of public comment at meetings.

"The thing [the agencies] have in common is that, unlike the Battery Park City Authority, they allow the public to directly address their members," Squadron said. "The operations of these organizations are not diminished by greater public participation; they are enhanced."

One board member called Squadron's comments "helpful," before chairman of the BPCA, Dennis Mehiel joked, "We have one more item before the executive session, where we’re going have a robust conversation around the senator’s comments — I’m teasing, we don’t do that in executive session."

The executive session is held privately, without the public.

The BPCA did not immediately return request for comment about changing its policy.

The BPCA has in recent months set up quarterly "open community meetings" — which are limited to an hour, but many say that its not enough time for meaningful community feedback.

Squadron and State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick has also been pushing a bill in the State Legislature that would require a majority of BPCA members to live in the area.

The governor is responsible for nominating board members, and the New York State Senate gives final approval.

This year, six of the seven board seats are up for reappointment.