WILKES-BARRE — City Council will discuss the fairness of its recently enacted policies on public input and will decide whether council meetings should be videotaped.
Councilman George Brown on Tuesday asked his fellow council members to consider having the meetings videotaped as a matter of public record. As Brown offered his thoughts, three of the four other members of council were nodding their heads in agreement.
“This is long overdue,” Brown said. “We should have a video record of every meeting.”
But Councilman Tony George disagreed, saying that the public might feel intimidated by the cameras and be reluctant to address council.
Council Chairman Bill Barrett said having an unedited videotape of the meetings would be to council’s benefit.
At council’s last meeting, new limits on how people can address the elected officials during public meetings were approved. Council amended ordinances on its rules and procedures, moving public speakers farther away and behind the rail separating council from the audience and requiring them to sign in before the start of the meeting.
Despite public opposition to the changes, council approved the changes. The new rules and the existing ones such as limiting speakers to five minutes are too much on people who already feel powerless, one person told council.
George said if a person attends a council meeting not intending to speak and doesn’t fill out the proper form, he or she could be excluded from participating. He said if that person hears something during the meeting and wants to ask a question or voice an opinion, he or she would be denied simply because a form wasn’t filled out before the meeting.
“People should be allowed to comment without restrictions,” George said. “We’re just stifling the public.”
On Thursday, council will also consider granting a construction easement to Seymour and Evelyn Holtzman to allow access to their property from Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. The Holtzmans want the extension of Coal Street for development to bring new businesses to the city.
The city would retain ownership of the property, said Mayor Tom Leighton. The nearly $14 million Phase I Coal Street project was completed on time and under budget early last year with a combination of federal, state and local funds. Phase II, estimated to be in the $12 million range, would extend Coal Street to Union Street. However, funding for the project has not been approved.
Once the easement is granted, permits would be needed from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and others and take between four to six months.
The owner of El Zocalo Restaurant at 21 Public Square has asked council to approve placing tables and chairs outside. The owner has also asked council to approve BYOB status for the outside business. Tim Henry, city attorney, said that would be in violation of the city’s open-container law.
Some city businesses do have outside alcohol sales, but they are licensed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Henry said.