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Smithtown residents say town agendas lack information

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said time and staffing

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said time and staffing constraints make it difficult to expand on information included on meeting agendas. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Smithtown Town officials will consider adding details to public meeting agendas after residents complained about a lack of information at a meeting earlier this month.

“We’re going to take a look at it,” Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said in an interview, though he warned of time and staffing constraints that might make change more costly and complicated than residents realize.

St. James resident Maria LaMalfa raised the issue after confronting the first item on the April 10 meeting agenda, a public hearing for what was described only as “a proposed amendment to Chapter 112 of Town Code, titled ‘Building Construction.’ ” The agenda did not list the passage to be amended or the proposed new language, leading LaMalfa to a fruitless search of the 9,500-word Chapter 112, she said.

Not until the public hearing at the meeting did she learn that the amendment under consideration would add a $50 fee for demolition of a swimming pool prior to obtaining a permit. That was too late for anyone who might have wanted to speak, she said.

That information had been available, if not easily accessible, appearing in small type in early March in the legal notices of a local newspaper that LaMalfa later said she hadn’t read.

The situation was similar for the dryly titled “proposed Local Law #2-2018.” A resident who had not seen the legal notice might not have known the town was proposing potentially hot-button legislation limiting where hookah lounges and vape stores can do business. No residents spoke at the public hearing. Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo later emailed a news release on the subject.

“People, if they’re interested, they’re going to come to a meeting,” LaMalfa said at the council meeting. “If they don’t understand what’s going on or how something may affect them, they may not come.”

Kings Park Civic Association president Linda Henninger made a similar point. “It would be helpful if the proposed amendment language was available online,” she said at the meeting.

Meeting minutes are also posted without supporting documents.

Towns including Babylon, Oyster Bay, Brookhaven, Huntington, Riverhead and Greenport make supporting documents available, many online, as does the city of Glen Cove. Islip Town makes some supporting documents available online.

Garguilo said she and town IT director Ken Burke are trying to streamline the process by which town departments submit resolutions and other material for public meetings. Changes may include consolidating the work in the town clerk’s office and replacing legislative software now in use, which she said was not user-friendly.

“We need to do better,” she said. “It’s a work in progress.”

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