Press-Republican

January 23, 2014

City of Plattsburgh changes layout of council chambers

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — For the first time in perhaps nearly a century, the City of Plattsburgh Common Council Chambers has a new look.

“It’s not a big thing, but we are thinking of new ways to serve the community, and this is one that hopefully will make a little difference,” said Mayor James Calnon, who won the election last fall and took over as mayor Jan. 1.

MOVED, ANGLED

Calnon’s new layout has moved the mayor’s table and the council tables along the south wall of the chambers, with the council tables angling in toward the mayor’s table in the middle.

The audience seats, about 45 of them, are now facing the entire council and staff.

The chambers used to feature the mayor at the head table, flanked by mayoral assistant Beth Carlin and City Attorney John Clute.

The two council tables extended from the mayor’s table on each side, creating a horseshoe-type shape with three councilors on each side.

Seating for the public was placed in the front of the room facing the horseshoe.

“I sat in that Ward 4 chair for seven years, and people got to know me by the back of my head,” Calnon said of his former council seat, which faced south, hiding his profile from those sitting behind him.

“I think it is important for citizens to be able to look the people who are voting, in the eyes, and have those voting be able to do the same to the people.”

ENCOURAGING INTERACTION

Calnon said he hopes the new format makes it easier for the council and the public to connect.

“City government is usually the closet level of government for people, and it gives them a chance to interact,” he said. “The way the chambers (arrangement) was set up before, I didn’t think it worked as well.

“It’s a small thing, but it’s a flavor thing.”

LONG TRADITION

The city was chartered in 1902, and City Hall was opened in August 1918, according to City Historian John W. Krueger.

There are old photographs of the Common Council meeting in what appears to be the present-day mayor’s office, but the date of those images cannot be pinned down.

No one knows for sure when the council began convening in the chambers.

City Clerk Keith Herkalo said that, as far as he knows, the setup was always in the horseshoe shape.

Calnon said he asked all the councilors what they thought of the idea of changing the layout, and they enthusiastically agreed.

MORE COMMENT TIME

The council also agreed to add another public-comment period at the end of each regular meeting.

There’s one at the beginning of each meeting designed to allow people to make any statements they wish.

The councilors are not required to respond, and usually do not, but there have been times over the years when they have engaged in debate.

The council removed the second comment period last year after some citizens made outrageous statements at the end of meetings that the council could not respond to.

Calnon said he hopes the public-comment period is not abused.

“We wanted to put that second comment period back in there so the public feels that it has a real capacity to tell us their concerns,” he said.

“But if someone says things that are outrageous and not true, then we will probably not adjourn the meeting and (will) talk about it.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com