Chester’s sidelined public comment gets a voice at town board meeting

Councilman Brandon Holdridge and residents express displeasure about meeting format. NY Project Hope representatives tell of Covid-19 trauma support resources.

| 15 Feb 2022 | 07:40

by Frances Ruth Harris

Chester councilman Brandon Holdridge asserted the need for a public comment session at the beginning of Town of Chester board meetings, speaking at the town’s board meeting on Feb. 9. Currently, public comment is held until the meeting’s end. He had previously voiced his concerns in a letter to the editor at The Chronicle.

“If residents would like to talk about an agenda item that’s being voted on or something being discussed that night, they are unable to give input until after the vote or discussion takes place,” he wrote. “This takes away their voice and ability to inform their public representatives on how they feel. They have no way to influence the public discourse on topics that come before the town before they are acted on.”

Holdridge also pointed out that meeting agendas are usually only posted within a day of the meeting, so many are unaware of and then uninvolved with what will be discussed. Public hearings are lacking.

“Many of the town’s issues get discussed and voted on without dedicated public hearings,” he wrote.

Emailed responses to his points agreed and amplified them. Many noted that not only had the meeting’s issues already been addressed and voted on by the time slotted for public comment, but also many attendees had already left.

Barbara Reina emailed: “The citizens of Chester should have the right to have their questions answered before any votes take place. I do not feel as a resident of the Town of Chester that our questions or concerns are taken seriously at all.”

Other emails voiced similar opinions.

NY Project Hope presentation

Also at the board meeting, Theresa Lewis and Lucille Rushing, crisis counselors with Access: Supports for Independent Living, described their new program with NY Project Hope in a presentation at the Town of Chester board meeting on Feb. 9. Their program offers crisis counseling to help people understand, cope with and recover from the effects of COVID-19, they said.

In addition to crisis counseling, they provide educational and supportive contact, assessment, referral, resource linkage, community support, networking and public education in school settings. Their helpline provides further emotional support, vital information and referrals. It’s free and confidential, in person and virtual.

They additionally do presentations on emotional wellness for area schools, civic events, churches and other groups. They have a virtual Wednesday night parents support group at 7p.m. where parents can share their concerns and learn coping strategies. Counselors are well versed on parenting, mental health, clinical issues, disabilities, education and public health.

NY Project Hope is funded by FEMA and NYS Office of Mental Health in response to the pandemic. For more information, call 845-637-9259.