Councilors stump to reopen of Rome City Hall

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Re-opening City Hall to the public was a main topic of discussion during Wednesday’s Common Council meeting held via audio stream.

During councilor comments, First Ward Councilor John M. Sparace stated that he’s received several calls in the last week from residents upset that City Hall is not yet open due to pandemic shutdowns.

‘Government does not stop’

“As a teacher, we have students back in school and they’re thinking of going full-time. Government does not stop” because of COVID-19, “and City Hall needs to stay open,” Sparace said.

Fifth Ward Councilor Frank R. Anderson echoed Sparace’s comments, and said not having City Hall open is a frustrating situation. “I went to pick up my mail, and there was a gentlemen there who had questions about his STAR exemption and where to drop information off, and his only recourse was to leave it in the lock box, and he walked away,” said Anderson. “Further concerning is that I walked into City Hall and they had a police officer at the desk who was there for the public, but we don’t let the public in, so there’s a contradiction. It’s been frustrating and been long enough...With proper precautions — and we are able to do that — it’s time to let the public back into City Hall.”

Taxes and dog licenses

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers Rogers said she has stated “a million times” that she’s a firm believer that City Hall should be open.

“I have said this at least 15 times since the shutdown — if I can go to the hairdresser’s, go to dinner, shop at Walmart and get my dog groomed, and do all these things I do while wearing masks, maintaining social distance, washing my hands and following the rules, there’s no excuse why someone can’t walk into City Hall to pay their taxes,” said Rogers. “We’re also losing dog licenses, and not licensing dogs leads to the potential for dogs to be unvaccinated, leading to an increase in Rabies exposure.”

Support for police

In relation to the public hearing before the council meeting, Sixth Ward Councilor Riccardo D. Dursi Jr. said, “I want to say that the speakers brought up some good points, and it showed that they were thoughtful in their discussions and feelings about it. But I do know that Rome Police Department has not just advertised” for recruitment purposes, “on Facebook. They’ve gone to schools and colleges, and they’ve gone pretty high up looking for good candidates for the City of Rome.”

Dursi also replied to comments from Clinton resident Brendan Dunn made during the hearing, about the detriment to having police in schools.

“As far as having officers in schools, one speaker said it’s a waste, and I take exception to that,” he said. “I’ve been working at RFA (Rome Free Academy) since 2002, and I know the officers develop a rapport with the students and this helps continue policing out into the community. I support the police in those two things.”

Diversity committee

As chair of the Diversity Committee, Anderson reported that the committee met Tuesday and discussed the police reform draft with members of the Rome NAACP.

“I think that some good ideas were brought forward. We shared some dialogue with Chief Beach, and we want to get the word out to the public even more,” said Anderson.

“I want to thank the speakers who spoke, but are there more out there? From a personal perspective, I think we should try to advertise that everyone should read the draft and make comments, and do whatever we can do, collectively, to get the word out about the report so we feel we’ve done as much as we can. So when we roll this out on March 10, we’ll know the public had the opportunity to weigh in on the report,” Anderson said.

Rogers said she believes that it’s important to note that the police reform draft “is not perfect, and I’m sure there are things everyone may have done differently or think was omitted, and hopefully we get enough comments in before they compile a final draft.”

She said, “The requirement may be to get everything in just because there’s an April 1 deadline, but that doesn’t mean there has to be an end to making revisions to that document. We’re always updating the city master plans, downtown revitalization plan...there’s always plans in the works because plans are always changing or there’s a new opportunity to learn new ways of doing things...I think there’s always an opportunity to do better, and we can always improve. But I don’t think (discussions) will end, and the dialogue and communication should not end.”

• Other business:

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Rome Branch NAACP President Jacqueline Nelson commented again regarding the accessibility to meetings, hoping the city could use a “Zoom format,” especially in relation the Rome Police Reform Plan draft.

“I noticed that Utica was doing a Zoom meeting and was wondering if Rome would consider doing it,” Nelson said. “I know we would get more people to participate in the process and add comments” to the police reform plan draft. “The Rome NAACP is willing to do that and have a discussion group, and we’re hoping that is something you would seriously consider.”

Common Council President Stephanie Viscelli said councilors did receive an email from Deputy City Clerk Eric Seelig indicating officials are still working on getting the city live streaming ability for Common Council and other meetings, so they look similar to how the Rome City School District Board of Education conducts its meetings.

“We don’t use Zoom because of confidentiality and security issues,” said Viscelli. “We use (Cisco) Webex so the security for our meetings doesn’t get breached. The clerk’s office is working on this, and hopefully they’ll get us to a point that we broadcast meetings on Webex.”

During councilor comments, Rogers also reinforced the need to have city meetings broadcast online.

“People don’t feel represented by government, and I think not having in-person meetings leads to this,” she said. “No matter how you go about presenting (meetings) to the public, it is not the same as if you are able to go into the Common Council chambers and hear your representative and their comments, be a participant in the structure of government and then have the ability to speak to your counselor following the meeting. We have missed many opportunities to engage the public.”

• Resolutions:

No. 22: The Common Council unanimously approved a motion to name City Engineer II Joseph Guiliano as the Local Responsible Official for the purposes of representing the city to the state Department of Transportation for the Seifert Road and Floyd Avenue state bridge projects.

No. 23: The council unanimously approved the authorization of an annual payment of $32,224 to Rome Art and Community Center.

• Tabled Resolutions

No. 8: A motion to authorize the city to execute an agreement with Lake Delta Volunteer Fire Department was unanimously approved.

No. 17: A motion to authorize the city to execute an agreement with Stanwix Heights Volunteer Fire Department was approved, with Second Ward Councilor John B. Mortise abstaining from the vote because he’s a member.

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