Reps set talk topics, soccer signs, rail lot fees
STAMFORD — Members of the Board of Representatives Monday tackled three sore spots that took their monthly meeting past midnight.
They are not big issues.
They fit the credo, “Life is in the little things.”
The first involves a recently passed policy that allows citizens to address the board at the start of each meeting. The question Monday night was whether citizens should be allowed to speak about whatever they want, or confine their comments to the topics on the meeting agenda.
Ambiguous wording in the policy had representatives confused. Board President Matt Quinones has interpreted it to mean that citizens may address any topic they wish.
It’s the democratic way, said Rep. Nina Sherwood, D-8.
“We need to show the people of the city we want to hear from them,” Sherwood said. “We are a better city if we incorporate more people into our decisions.”
The Board of Finance and Board of Education do it, said Rep. Megan Cottrell, D-4.
“This is a unique opportunity for residents to address all of us at once,” Cottrell said. “It’s hard to ignore an issue when we all hear about it at the same time and the person is right here before us.”
Some meetings have gone five hours with the 40 members “listening to each other,” said Rep. Annie Summerville, D-6. The board can afford time for residents, she said.
“I’d stay here all night for the public,” Summerville said to applause from citizens attending the meeting.
“We should allow citizens to speak on anything they’d like,” said Rep. Terry Adams, D-3. “They are the taxpayers. Three minutes a month is the least we can do.”
The opposing side was concerned about finishing all the work scheduled for meetings, which begin at 8 p.m. on the first Monday of each month and sometimes last into early Tuesday.
“This is about efficiency,” said Rep. Bradley Michelson, R-1. “It makes more sense to have the comments focused on what we are voting on that night. We all have emails and phone calls and other ways to communicate with constituents.”
Rep. Benjamin Lee, D-15, pointed out that the public-comment period is limited to half an hour.
“Are we saying that we are listening only 30 minutes a month? If so, we are not doing our jobs very well,” Lee said. “This is merely about focusing on the meeting.”
Rep. J.R. McMullen, R-18, said off-agenda topics take meetings out of focus.
“This should not be a free-for-all. As it is, we can have somebody up at the podium singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ or reading smut,” McMullen said.
But his colleagues mostly disagreed, voting to allow citizens to raise any concern they choose.
The next sore spot, more like a wound, goes back a decade, when the city installed $5.7 million worth of artificial turf fields at West Beach on Shippan Avenue.
Some Shippan residents fought the move, saying the fields pose potential environmental and health hazards. They sued the city, though the parties eventually came to terms.
But there was confusion Monday about whether the terms included allowing advertising banners on the fences that line the West Beach soccer fields.
It was important because board members were discussing a resolution to allow Little Leagues and youth soccer, softball, football and other leagues to sell advertising space on field fences for one year, to see how it goes. The leagues use the money to host activities and subsidize fees for needy families.
But, because of the agreement with Shippan residents, the resolution had one exception: West Beach, where the 1,600-member Stamford Youth Soccer League plays. The resolution would prohibit Stamford Youth Soccer from displaying ads.
That would be wrong, said Rep. Tony Spadaccini, R-14, who once helped run youth sports.
“Funds raised through advertising are critical to keeping kids on the field,” Spadaccini said. “These leagues keep middle-school kids from hanging around the mall and possibly getting into trouble. They hold them to a standard for their grades in school. They get kids outside. They provide something the city does not.”
One vs. all
Rep. David Watkins, R-1, a district that includes Shippan, said he supported the resolution because it would give the city time to come up with a policy for posting signs in parks — size, placement, number of months, and whether leagues should share advertising revenue with the city, which maintains fields.
Michelson, who also represents Shippan, said the board should not decide without comment from the Shippan Point Association.
West Beach is “a field with a contentious history,” Michelson said. “This needs a lot more detail. That area of the beach is flourishing — it’s good to see all the kids playing as you enter Shippan. But we have to give the association the courtesy of joining the conversation.”
Lee said the board should think big.
“This is about the rights of a neighborhood group versus the rights of the larger city,” Lee said. “The interests of the city as a whole should outweigh the interests of one neighborhood.”
His colleagues agreed, voting to allow advertising signs at West Beach, though they amended the resolution to limit the signs to the height of the 3-foot fences, and to face the fields, not the street.
But on the third sore spot, increasing parking fees and hours of enforcement — a discussion that began six months ago — the board mostly punted.
Members voted to hold measures that would increase fees and hours of enforcement for downtown parking meters, city garages and parking lots.
They did, however, compromise on fee hikes for the city’s commuter parking lots at the Springdale and Glenbrook railroad stations.
The resolution sought to increase the monthly parking pass for residents from $45 to $60. The board voted to lower it to $50. The monthly fee for non-residents was set to increase from $90 to $125. The board voted to lower it to $98.