HUDSON — Common Council President Thomas DePietro has eliminated council committees for the new year, changing the structure of the city’s government.
Instead of having separate committees, department heads will report to the Common Council Informal Meeting, which takes place the second Monday of each month. Ad hoc committees will be created to address specific issues that need more time and public debate.
The change is experimental, DePietro said. All resolutions and laws will go through DePietro, who will set the agenda and lead the ad hoc committees.
Hudson Development Corporation, Hudson Community and Development Planning Agency and Downtown Revitalization Initiative Committee representatives will also report, DePietro said.
“Centralizing all these things will lead to greater participation and openness of government in the long run,” he said.
None of the other 10 council members chose to discuss the change at the organizational meeting Monday before unanimously voting to accept the rules of order.
The committees in 2020 included the Police Committee chaired by 2nd Ward Alderman Dewan Sarowar, Public Works and Parks Committee chaired by 4th Ward Alderman John Rosenthal, Economic Development Committee chaired by 3rd Ward Alderman Calvin Lewis, the Finance Committee chaired by DePietro, Fire Committee chaired by 5th Ward Alderman Dominic Merante, Housing and Transportation committee chaired by 2nd Ward Alderwoman and Majority Leader Tiffany Garriga, Legal Committee chaired by Rosenthal and Youth, Education, Seniors and Recreation Committee chaired by 4th Ward Alderman Malachi Walker.
Each committee had four council members including the committee chair.
Zoom meetings have gotten out of control with online attendees misunderstanding them as public forums, DePietro said.
“I’m hoping that even our Code Enforcement Department will join in and report to the council,” DePietro said. “The whole idea here is the entire council needs to know everything and be involved in all matters for the city in order for us to get some serious work done, so all the various former committee subjects will be covered in our Informal [meeting].”
Code Enforcement Officer Craig Haigh had not heard of DePietro’s idea for his department’s involvement and was unsure about responding to its feasibility or value Tuesday.
Council members DePietro spoke with are thrilled with the new structure, he said Monday before the meeting.
“I think a lot of council members will be relieved because especially during COVID it has been very hard to attend all the committee meetings they’re supposed to attend,” DePietro added. “We’ve had many meetings without a quorum, that kind of thing.”
DePietro’s plan overall received support from council members, but some were caught off guard about the change, saying they weren’t aware of it before the public meeting.
Second Ward Alderman Dewan Sarowar had not heard about the policy change before it was announced to the public, he said.
“Tom didn’t even tell us before the meeting so I didn’t know anything about it,” Sarowar said Tuesday. “I don’t know how it’s going to be functioning. I don’t have the details on it. Depending on Tom, I think it’s going to be okay.” Sarowar chaired the Police Committee last year.
Fifth Ward Alderman Dominic Merante, who chaired the Fire Committee, found out a few hours before the meeting, he said.
“I did not know anything about these changes until three hours before the meeting yesterday, so this was, you know, new,” Merante said Tuesday. “I was reaching out to Tom since Friday, inquiring what committees and everything I was sitting on to get an idea, but I never got a response until yesterday, three hours before the meeting when he laid out the plan for the year.”
In the past few years, Merante knew which committees he was on ahead of the organizational meeting, he said. Merante likes the component of council members getting information at one time and being on the same page.
By having fewer meetings to attend, Merante expects the public to be more involved. But the meetings have potential to get tedious and last a few hours, he said. He wishes they started earlier, at 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.
“I think there is definitely going to be a learning curve in seeing how this works,” he said.
Fifth Ward Alderwoman Eileen Halloran supports the change, but believes the council meetings are already too long. Members of the public can effectively correspond with council members through email, she added.
“I am in favor of a new approach to things to continuously see if we can improve the process,” she said.
Fourth Ward Alderman John Rosenthal, who chaired the Legal and Economic Development committees, believes the new structure will make it easier for the council to work together and for the public to participate, he said Tuesday.
The four-person committee structure is “quaint,” Rosenthal said. Oftentimes committees will be working on something important with under 10 people and sometimes just two or three. Then the public can be taken by surprise when the topic comes up at the full council meetings, which more community members tend to attend.
The structure will bring something different for the new year, Majority Leader and 2nd Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga, who chaired the Housing and Transportation Committee, said.
“A new style, if you will, for 2021,” she said.
The council will see if the set-up works to decide whether or not to continue it for 2022, she added.
Fourth Ward Alderman Malachi Walker called DePietro’s decision a nice gesture to bring in the new year.
“In my opinion the council has been doing a great job so far led by Supervisor Tom, so I’m looking forward to seeing even more productivity in the change,” Walker said.
Minority Leader and 1st Ward Alderwoman Rebecca Wolff supports what she called an experiment.
“I hope it will create much more shared awareness among council members of the various initiatives and endeavors taking place in all corners of the city structure and produce more action,” Wolff said.
Youth Department Director Nick Zachos, who would previously present at the Youth, Education, Seniors and Recreation Committee meetings, supports the new structure and is not expecting to change how he presents his report, he said.
“What I imagine is basically we will be hitting a bigger audience and get more comments, more feedback,” he said.
He was aware DePietro was considering other options for the structure, but Monday night was the first time he heard the specific plan.
Commissioner of Aging Robyn Waters, who represented the Senior Center at Youth, Education, Seniors and Recreation Committee meetings, sees the new structure as an opportunity to collaborate to address community needs.
“Having each department present at the Informal Common Council meeting is a great opportunity for members of the community and the Common Council to fully understand the goals of each department,” Waters said. “It will help to streamline our efforts and make the most effective use of our resources.”
Department heads technically report to their respective commissioners and the mayor as members of the executive branch, Superintendent of Public Works Robert Perry said. The council doesn’t have authority to direct department heads, he said. But he sees the committee reports as a regular opportunity to inform people on what his department is doing.
“I can see where Tom might think the committees are getting a little unruly, unorderly,” Perry said. “I don’t see that changing by having the same discussions with the full council ... If it is a free-for-all for department heads, those meetings are going to be long, really long. But if it’s just a matter of the department heads submitting a report and having a brief exchange with some of the elected officials, then I think it should work fine.”
DePietro will have a lot to manage, Perry added. Perry was council president in 2008.