BATTERY PARK CITY — The state agency that oversees Battery Park City is defending a new, controversial policy that allows elected officials, but not members of the general public, to speak at public board meetings, saying it allows for "actual engagement" with the board.
The Battery Park City Authority had never allowed any public comment at its monthly board meetings, but after pressure from elected officials and residents, the BPCA said in June it would amend the rule. The new policy lets elected officials speak at board meetings on behalf of the residents, and permits the public to submit comments in writing to the board.
But last week, state Sen. Daniel Squadron, at his first chance to speak at a BPCA board meeting, chided the seven-member board, calling the new policy "woefully inadequate," before listing 22 agencies that allow for direct public comment from the public.
BPCA spokesman Nicholas Sbordone told DNAinfo New York, however, that the board sees the policy quite differently.
The current policy of allowing a politician to speak on behalf of resident concerns is potentially better than the direct public comment at some other municipal board meetings, because the BPCA can engage with the elected official without a time limit, Sbordone wrote in an email.
“Unlike the public comment sessions of some other boards, where individuals (usually with a pre-imposed time limit) read statement after statement to members who sit silently and without discussion, our policy provides for actual engagement between the public’s elected representatives — on any matter those representatives feel appropriate to discuss — and the BPCA Board in an open forum," Sbordone said.
The BPCA permits written comments up to 24 hours after the meeting, he added, offering an unlimited space for public comment, and is available online as part of the board's minutes for all to access.
"No time limit, no word limit — and all while creating a record, posted on our website, for the public to draw on for reference and research purposes at any point in the future," he said. "I don’t know that this is functionally different than individuals reading one- or two-minute statements to Board members who simply nod and then invite the next speaker up to do the same."
Some agencies do allow for open discussion between public speakers and board members, at the board's discretion, though generally back-and-forth at public comment periods is not the norm.
Sbordone also said that there are several other forums for engagement with the authority, including at community board meetings and, in recent months, the addition of quarterly "open community meetings" — which are limited to an hour.
Many residents, however, say those forums do not provide enough time for meaningful community feedback — and they are not directly addressing all the members of the board at those meetings.
Residents have long been calling for better public discourse with the agency, whose members are appointed by the governor. Only one BPCA member currently lives in Battery Park City, something elected officials, backed by many residents, have been fighting to change.