The Oyster Bay Town Board cut the number of evening meetings in half for 2019, citing lack of interest by the public and higher costs to hold meetings at night.
Board members approved next year's meeting schedule in a 5-1 vote with one abstention during their 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday.
The board scheduled four meetings at 7 p.m. and 17 at 10 a.m. next year compared to eight evening meetings and 14 in the morning this year . Since 2016, the board had increased the number of night meetings in response to resident complaints that the working people couldn’t participate in government.
“We noticed that people weren’t attending in any kind of large numbers,” Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said of the evening meetings.
But a review of meeting minutes and videos on the town’s website shows public participation more than doubled at 7 p.m. meetings compared to 10 a.m. meetings this year. Newsday's analysis looked at 18 regularly scheduled meetings from Jan. 9 through Oct. 2 representing six evening meetings and 12 morning meetings.
On average, more than seven members of the public addressed the board on resolutions or hearings at the night meetings compared to fewer than three people during the daytime meetings. During the public comment portion, an average of six members of the public addressed the board during night meetings compared to two during day meetings.
Saladino did not respond to a request for attendance figures or the cost difference between night and day meetings.
Councilman Anthony Macagnone cast the lone dissenting vote against moving more meetings to a 10 a.m. start. Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia abstained.
“Limiting the amount of night hearings is just the wrong message to send to the residents,” Macagnone said. “We want them more involved.”
Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr. said in an interview that reducing night meetings was “a step backward.”
“I’ve always believed in night meetings,” Altadonna said. “It gives the public an opportunity to be heard without taking a day off from work.”
In 2016 the Town Board expanded the number of night meetings to four from one. In January of 2017, after former Supervisor John Venditto resigned and before Saladino was appointed, the board doubled that number to eight.
“All town business should be done in the evening,” Robert Freier, spokesman for the Oyster Bay Democrats said, adding that the reduction shows that Saladino, a Republican, is "not interested in running Oyster Bay with the transparency that he says he does.”
Saladino gave an example of low turnout the Oct. 16 evening budget hearing where he said “no one showed up.” Asked about the 16 people who addressed the board on other topics at that meeting, Saladino said, “That has nothing to do with the budget.”
“If we get a flurry of communication saying we want more night meetings, we’ll change it,” Saladino said. “There’s actually no issue here.”