Proposal launched for Albany council to scrap summer meetings

ALBANY – The city’s council can no longer meet in July and August if a new proposal is approved.

Third Ward Councilor Joyce Love will introduce legislation next week that would give the council a two-month suspension from regular meetings. Love said that by not meeting during those two months, city lawmakers would have more opportunities to connect with residents in their neighborhoods.

Love dismissed the idea that the bill would simply give council members a summer vacation.

“We’re not asking for time to sit at home and twiddle our thumbs,” she said. “I think we can do a lot of good over the summer and help our constituents.”

The council meets regularly on the first and third Monday of each month. It also has a Wednesday caucus the week before each meeting to discuss bills and determine if the bills have enough support to pass.

The bill would not prevent committee chairs from calling meetings to discuss bills or issues facing the city. And it would allow the board to schedule a meeting with at least seven days’ notice if the interim president decides it’s necessary. The council could also hold emergency meetings.

Council agendas during the summer months are generally lighter and attendance at meetings is sometimes reduced when members go on vacation or have other commitments.

But the idea has already drawn opposition from other members, who said the council’s schedule was designed to give them time to meet their residents.

“Asking for a summer vacation with all the problems our city is facing, and without any kind of pay cut, is absurd,” said Tenth Ward Councilor Owusu Anane.

City council members are part-time legislators with an annual salary of $21,982, an increase of $1,262 from 2021. Troy and Schenectady city legislators receive annual salaries of $17,500 and $14,100 $ respectively.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Gabriella Romero also said she opposed it. “I think it’s disrespectful to the city of Albany,” she said.

However, the bill has already garnered significant support, with seven of the 15 council members signing on as co-sponsors. That includes Fourth Ward Councilman Kelly Kimbrough, the interim president, and Thirteenth Ward Councilman Ginnie Farrell, the Majority Leader.

Several council members who support the legislation said public meetings and caucuses are only a small part of their job. They also typically attend neighborhood meetings and community events, as well as connecting residents with city services.

Farrell, who also serves as chair of the law enforcement, buildings and code committee, said the position on the board is equivalent to a second full-time job. She added that other legislative bodies, such as the state legislature, also take summer vacations to spend time in their districts.

Supporters said the measure would also reduce the workload of council staff. The board has struggled to fill several positions over the past year.

Ending meetings in July and August would also mean residents would not have the opportunity to speak publicly with the full council during the public comment period. Some meetings have only a few speakers while at other times the board has had to extend the public comment period to allow everyone to speak.

Farrell acknowledged that townspeople would not have the opportunity to speak with the full council during those months if regular meetings were over. But she argued that council members’ emails and cellphones are public and that members typically receive messages at all hours of the day.

Richard Conti, the former Sixth Ward councilman, also expressed reservations about the proposal. During his tenure, Conti often argued that the council should take a more active role in overseeing the mayor’s office and the issues facing the city.

“As a former council member, I’m not convinced that this is a good idea or that it serves the public interest,” he said. “But I’m ready to listen to the supporters make their case.”

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