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Speaking out

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The public comment portion of a municipal meeting is designed specifically for that: Public comments.

But some members of the Potsdam village Board of Trustees ignored this principle during their Monday meeting. A resident used the public comment segment to recommend that the board pass a resolution opposing a state law passed in Albany earlier this year, but some officials said they had heard enough about this issue.

Dean D. Laubscher called on trustees to approve a symbolic resolution stating their opposition to the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act. But Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis interrupted Mr. Laubscher by saying, “The village board has already heard about this issue on three separate occasions, and we have already made a decision.”

Mayor Yurgartis needs a few lessons in manners. It’s impolite to cut someone off when they are speaking.

Undeterred, Mr. Laubscher continued. He told the board, “I am a taxpaying resident of the village of Potsdam, and I will address the village board.”

Resident Melissa A. Kellison followed Mr. Laubscher and made a similar argument. Sadly, she also was interrupted several times during her comments. This time it was by Trustee Ruth F. Garner, who directed Ms. Kellison to “stop this nonsense.”

Aside from a refresher course on proper etiquette, Mayor Yurgartis and Trustee Garner need to brush up on American civics. Or, at the very least, on political reality.

Constituents don’t appreciate it when any elected representative tells them that he or she isn’t at all interested in what they have to say. This certainly isn’t the tune that candidates play when they are seeking elective office.

In the homestretch to an election, candidates are all ears. If they change their attitude once they get into office, voters are likely to conclude that the attention lavished on their concerns by the candidates was for nothing but show, a cheap political stunt to achieve power.

Yes, it can be tedious to listen to the same argument over an issue time and time again. And especially when a public body has decided not to act on that issue, it’s not unreasonable for officials to ask, “What’s the point?”

And there is no mandate for governmental entities to offer public comment periods during their open meetings. They are provided at the discretion of these bodies and may be regulated.

But when one is offered, the public comment portion of a public meeting is for residents to discuss their concerns in an open forum. The goal is to assure residents that they’ll have time to address their municipal leaders on topics important to them.

New York legislators were criticized by many — including this editorial page — for the dubious manner in which they enacted the SAFE Act: They refused to allow members of the public to scrutinize the process by passing the bill in the dead of night. Potsdam officials should not follow suit by short-circuiting the portion of their meetings designed to offer residents the opportunity to speak their minds.

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