Whenever a town proposes a new law, state law provides that there must be a public hearing, with advance published notice, to notify residents and give them an opportunity to be heard on the issue before the elected officials act on the law. Yorktown’s Supervisor Michael Grace has, in my opinion, expressed his disdain for public hearings. He has referred to these hearings as the public coming in at “the 11th hour.”
Recently, Grace said this at a public hearing on June 20, about amending our tree law. Last fall, at a public hearing where many residents opposed the action, the town board’s majority voted to weaken the town’s law protecting trees from excessive removal, including removing trees on town property from coverage under the law. After a public hearing where many town residents spoke up and stopped him from weakening the wetlands law (which, on June 20, Grace referred to as “shouting down” what he wanted to do), Grace proposed adding town property back to coverage by the tree law.
The public hearing on that proposal was on June 20. All speakers supported the amendment. All speakers also spoke about how weak the law now is, which means protection on town property will be weak, and urged the board to reconsider and meet with residents to discuss strengthening the law. One gentleman speaker pointed out that at both hearings on the law, the Board was ignoring the public. That speaker wondered aloud to whom the board was listening, if not the public.
Supervisor Grace was quite upset by this and at the end of the hearing angrily denounced those opposed to the weakened law for several minutes. Grace referred to the speakers—most of whom were women—as “shrill.” (Anyone can go to the town website and watch the video of this part of the June 20 hearing, and I suggest you do so, beginning at 2 hours and 3 minutes) Grace claimed that the town had consulted many local and town experts before changing the tree law and they were all on board with the changes. However, the town’s conservation board, in its report to the town, said “The proposed new law guts the original intent of the Tree Ordinance and replaces it with a weaker, ill-defined law…” The planning and tree conservation advisory boards also criticized parts of the law, which was enacted anyway without consideration of these comments because, in my opinion, the town board’s majority, led by Supervisor Grace, has disdain for the public. On June 20, Councilman Lachterman referred to those who speak against what the board does as people with “passion” but “zero education.”
A group of us have drafted an alternative law that improves on both the original and recent tree laws. We asked the town board to meet with us to discuss it. If I am wrong about the majority, and I hope I am, they will meet with us to work on real improvements to the law.