NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- For the first time in the history of New Rochelle, there will now be a video and audio record of every minute of every meeting of every formal public body in New Rochelle.
This month, the City of New Rochelle began recording and streaming meetings of the Civil Service Commission, the Municipal Arts Commission and the Historical Landmark Review Board.
The web page for the additional meetings is under construction but meetings are hosted on the Council page:
The live stream can be viewed here:
The videos can be viewed on NRTV at scheduled times:
Coupled with the revamped City web site launched in 2010 which provides PDF files of meeting agendas and supporting documents, New Rochelle residents now have the ability to monitor and review every decision of their City government.
On top of this, over the past several years, the New Rochelle Board of Education began making video and audio records of all of its meetings and live broadcasting and streaming the annual budget session meetings. The board has more recently adopted Board Docs so that agendas and supporting documents are online in a convenient format (they have been on line prior to this but the Board Docs system is a major improvement).
For Talk of the Sound -- and you will have to forgive our taking a victory lap here -- this is the culmination of more than five years of efforts to push New Rochelle towards greater government transparency.
There is still plenty of work to do, and New Rochelle residents will have to take advantage of these improvements, but you take victories where you can and this moment is one to celebrate.
Many people have contributed to this effort.
Robert Freeman and the Committee on Open Government - provided legal infrastructure, advisory opinions and moral support.
Richard St. Paul - IDA, Planning and Zoning Appeals Board meetings records on video and broadcast on NRTV.
Amy Paulin - amended the Open Meeting Law to require all documents discussed at public meetings be put on line before the meeting so the public could follow along during public meeting discussions.
Jeffrey Hastie - ran for school board with televised meetings as part of his platform.
Sara Richmond - put school board meetings on TV and archived on the web, added live broadcasting and streaming of budget meetings.
Shari Rackman - Brought forward resolution to video record all Civil Service Commission, Municipal Arts Commission, and Historical Landmark Review Board meetings and to place all video recorded of City meetings on TV and web streamed and archived to the web.
Credit to Kathy Gilwit and John Micewicz for their work in getting City meetings on TV and the web; and to Robert Johnson and Christine Coleman for getting Board of Education meetings on TV and the web. And anyone who helped that I failed to mention.
A special acknowledgement to John Imburgia.
Imburgia challenged a decision of the Civil Service Commission in 2010, after the CSC sought to deny him a position on specious residency grounds. Imburgia filed a lawsuit and a judge later ruled in his favor, that Imburgia was improperly denied a position because the City did not post job specifications that comported with Civil Service residency requirements. He won the case but was still denied the position because the City must select from 1 of the 3 top candidates for a position and, not surprisingly, once put back on the list he was passed over for the next opening.
Imburgia's case attracted my intention so that when he succeeded in getting a hearing from the Civil Service Commission in January 2011, I tagged along to video tape the proceedings.
A meeting of the Civil Service Commission was called to order on January 19, 2011 in the Development Conference Room on the first floor of New Rochelle's City Hall. After the Imburgia hearing, the video shows as the Executive Director and Commissioners of the Civil Service Commission get up from the table, leave the room, go down the hallway into the Executive Director's office, lock the door and continue the meeting.
The meeting was not properly noticed, there were no signs in the building to indicate the location of the meeting, a meeting was called to order in open session in one room then moved without comment or explanation to another room and continued behind a locked door. The video from that day shows me barging my way into the erstwhile public meeting.
City Manager Chuck Strome took corrective action so that all future meetings of the Civil Service Commission were noticed on the City web site and held in a public meeting room at City Hall (Beaufort B-1).
From that day, two years ago, Imburgia and I began to video record Civil Service Meetings and publish articles on what was taking place in these meetings.
Through this, I came to see that fixing the Civil Service Commission, by far the greatest source of public corruption in New Rochelle, would require shining a very bright light on their meetings and that meant video recording the meetings.
Because John Imburgia took on the Civil Service Commission and became motivated to video record their meetings he was the first to report a quiet effort by the New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll to sneak through a major change in the police department: Civil Service Watch: New Rochelle Civil Service Meeting - October 17, 2012
Imburgia's exposed to the public, for the first time, what turned in a major controversy that ultimately led to the City Council approving a resolution to record and display video of the Civil Service Commission and all other meetings of public bodies in the City of New Rochelle.
A series reports by Talk of the Sound followed:
From that experience, I argued privately, and in an open letter, to City Council that but for Imburgia recording that meeting and my reporting from that point forward, the residents of New Rochelle would have been unaware of a major change at the New Rochelle Police Department -- and a major financial windfall for particular persons, all at taxpayer expense.
Council Member Shari Rackman, along with Council Member Ivar Hyden, convinced by that argument and their own experience with the attempt to create the Assistant Police Commissioner positions, brought forward a resolution to record video of all public bodies in New Rochelle and to run that video on TV (live and/or tape delay) and over the web (live and archived video).
The City Council voted last night, 6-1, to record, broadcast, stream, and archive to the web, meetings of the Municipal Civil Service Commission. The Municipal Arts Commission and the Historical and Landmarks Review Board were also covered under the resolution but the real action was on the Civil Service Commission. Barry Fertel was the lone "nay".
The effort to put Civil Service meetings on TV and on the City web site, was led by Shari Rackman with support from Ivar Hyden.
For the significant back story to this vote read here.
The power of having all these documents and videos on line is that it makes what was once close to impossible -- to relate various discussions and documents across a wide range of public meetings at the same time or over a long stretch of time and begin to see patterns and make connections.
The most profound example of how the video tapes and agenda records came together to effect change in New Rochelle is the defeat of the Echo Bay Project. There are many people out there claiming or blaming persons or groups for how the project was ultimately killed but as someone who was on the inside from beginning to end I can tell you what almost all of what folks say and here is wrong.
The death of Echo Bay Development is a complex story but the seminal moment came in August of 2012 when the issue shifted, for the first time, from a "South End" issue (East Enders, Vets, etc.) to a "North End" issue.
I was there watching when it happened.
After many years of reporting by Anthony Galletta on the flawed tax abatements for the two Avalons (most of it published by me on Talk of the Sound), that reporting made its way into this August 2012 discussion of the New Rochelle Board of Education:
Sitting in that meeting, I texted Galletta. "Hey, they are channeling your articles in this meeting".
I immediately understood the significance. If the Board of Education, with its roots deep into the North End Democratic Party political machine, were having reservations about the similarities between the Avalon tax abatements and the proposed tax abatements for Echo Bay it might be the basis for creating a North-South coalition to oppose the Echo Bay project.
For this reason I laboriously transcribed the entire exchange. It has since become the most heavily viewed school board meeting in the history of the City School District of New Rochelle.
Opponents of Echo Bay on City Council then picked up the threads of that discussion in a February 2013 Council Meeting. Another transcription was made, this time with the assistance of Larraine Karl.
In March 2013, at the Echo Bay Draft Environmental Impact Statement Hearing, Deidre Polow and Jeffrey Hastie came before the City Council to state the board's opposition to the development plan:
Much happened between March and November 2013 including the Astorino campaign, UCBNR and the "No Echo Bay" signs and more. But you can trace a straight line from Galletta's reporting on the Avalon abatements and their negative impact on school taxes, the turning of the New Rochelle Board of Education to oppose Echo Bay at the DEIS hearing, to the creation of UCBNR (no coincidence that many of the founding members were involved in my school board campaigns), to the distribution of "No Echo Bay Signs", to Astorino's success in New Rochelle (closing a 79-21 gap from 2011 to just 53-47 in 2013), to Bramson's melt down a week later and the "water boarding" incident which cemented opposition to Echo Bay once and for all.
The common thread?
The availability of video of public meetings, edited and displayed on Talk of the Sound (and elsewhere on occasion) so the public could see for themselves what was really going on with their local governments.