Shelton P&Z commissioners: Later meetings will increase public participation

Shelton City Hall.

Shelton City Hall.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — Morning meetings have quelled public participation and forced one commissioner from attending at all since the start of the pandemic, according to four Planning & Zoning commissioners.

Commissioners Jimmy Tickey, Mark Widomski and Elaine Matto and alternate Commissioner John Uysal are calling on Chairwoman Virginia Harger and department staff to move P&Z meetings to no earlier than 5 p.m., and if City Hall is unavailable past 6 p.m. daily, hold meetings at an alternate location.

The commission’s last evening meeting, prior to the pandemic, was March 10 at City Hall. The commission has held 19 special meetings since late April — Wednesdays at 10 a.m., a time which has prevented Widomski from appearing due to work commitments.

“The (present) meeting times do not lend themselves to public participation while so many are working or dealing with obligations during workday mornings,” said Tickey, who broached this subject at last week’s P&Z meeting.

Widomski did not respond for comment.

"During COVID-19, the Planning and Zoning Commission meetings have been stacked with massive developments, and now more than ever, we need to hear from the public,” Tickey added. “The governor's orders allow for virtual or hybrid meetings, but nothing says what time of day they need to occur. I believe it is a reasonable request for us to accommodate a start time in the early evening."

Since this was not on the agenda of Wednesday’s special meeting, Harger said the matter could be discussed further. But she said staff would survey the commissioners about potential, more convenient start times.

“I am entirely open to an adjustment in the daytime meeting schedule, and I am ready to resume evening meetings,” Harger said. “It is important for everyone to understand that a discussion concerning a change in meeting times could not be held during Wednesday’s special meeting as it was not already an agenda item and to add it to the agenda during the meeting would be in violation of the FOI meeting notice regulations, a requirement that some commissioners might have overlooked."

On Thursday, Harger and P&Z staff suggested times between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., since City Hall closes at 6 p.m. each day. Meetings, which are streamed live on the city website, are held in the City Hall auditorium.

“As has been said in many of our meetings, a meeting time during the day does not lend itself to public participation and openness in the process,” the four commissioners stated in an email to Harger Thursday night.

“While meeting in the mornings worked throughout the summer as more families were home,” the four further stated, “we respectfully request the Planning & Zoning Commission meet at 5 p.m. to accommodate working people and families who wish to participate, starting with next week's meeting.”

The email stated many city halls across Connecticut have made changes in their operations due to COVID-19, and many public meeting times are still occurring in the evening. Conservation Commission, which meets outside, and the Board of Education hold regular night meetings. The Board of Education either holds Zoom meetings or gathers at Shelton Intermediate School.

Harger said the present meeting time was determined in late April, when City Hall was closed daily at 1 p.m. That, Harger said, left times between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Harger said P&Z staff advised the commissioners that the number of applications being submitted to the zoning office would involve public hearings, so staff recommended that three daytime meetings be scheduled each month to keep the zoning process moving; the first to include processing of applications for certificates of zoning requirements, and the second and third meetings for public hearings.