Moriah residents are more informed, but less vocal at town board meetings. Supervisor Tom Scozzafava believes the reason lies in social media and the internet.
Nearly three decades ago, Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava kept a mechanical flower on his desk. A gift from his young daughter, the flower “danced” when music played.
It was common for that flower to “dance” as town board meetings became heated and voices raised.
“There aren’t too many meetings like that anymore,” Scozzafava said recently. “People don’t get as passionate; things don’t get as heated.”
That’s not to say constituents don’t care.
“I believe people are better informed than ever,” Scozzafava said. “Today they have access to almost all the information the town board has on the internet. Agendas, meeting minutes, assessment rolls, budgets — you name and people can access it.
“All that information has made town board meetings run smoother,” he added. “People don’t feel frustrated that they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t feel like things are being hidden.”
There have been a lot of changes since Scozzafava took office n the 1980s. Town board meetings, once held in his cramped office, are now held in a state-of-the-art court room. Meetings are now televised on local cable access TV and local officials are available through Email and social media.
“I have to give Francis Drake a lot of credit,” Scozzafava said. “He brought a camera to our meetings in early 1990s and started to tape us for Moriah TV (the local cable access channel). He made us the first town board in the region to have our meetings on TV.”
Drake was a vocal critic of Scozzafava, yet the two men shared one common goal.
“I’ve always stressed the importance of open government,” Scozzafava said. “Francis questioned everything we did. He could be irritating at times, but he was right to ask questions.
“We’ve always encouraged discussion at our meetings,” the supervisor added. “There’s never been a time limit for public comment. I’ve never used my gravel unless things became personal.”
Drake challenged Scozzafava in the 1990s, running against him for supervisor. Scozzafava won, but welcomed the challenge.
“Through the years I’ve learned a lot from having open meetings,” the supervisor said. “People have brought issues to our attention that the town board didn’t even realize were issues. They’ve made constructive suggestions that the board may not have considered.
“The people who speak up at town board meetings represent the community, just like elected officials represent their constituents,” Scozzafava said.
Through the years Moriah’s open meeting approach has welcomed several out-spoken critics. Most recently, Lootz Burhart carried the mantle of skeptical citizen.
“Lootz always brought up issues that were important to the community,” Scozzafava said. “She always did her homework and was always respectful. She would call me before a meeting and tell me what she was planning an bringing up.”
There’s less public participation at meetings today, Scozzafava said, but that doesn’t mean there’s less public participation in local government.
“I get 30-40 Emails a day from constituents with concerns and ideas,” Scozzafava said. “When I started we were just learning how to use the fax machine. Today it’s a different world with the internet, Email, Facebook. Everything a town does is available on line.
“Our constituents are better informed today than ever before,” he added, “because so much more information is available.”