By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Senator Squadron: 'A slap in the face'
Not only is SUNY’s public hearing on its controversial closure of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) being held in Purchase, New York -- but it was announced too late to allow interested parties to sign up to for a reserved slot to comment on the closure.
SUNY is “re-doing” its meeting about closing LICH after Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes ruled Thursday that the hospital must remain open until SUNY complied with the Open Meetings Law.
On Thursday evening SUNY added the LICH resolution to the agenda of the previously planned meeting of the board of trustees at SUNY Purchase in Westchester, NY. That meeting takes place Monday, March 18 and Tuesday, March 19, with public comment during the Tuesday session.
Even if they can make it to Westchester, LICH supporters shouldn't expect much time to speak their minds. The deadline to sign up for a reserved five-minute slot to comment and submit written material was noon Friday. Others interested in making "brief extemporaneous comments" of "no more than three minutes" will be heard at the end of the hearing.
"People can walk in," a SUNY spokesman told the Eagle Friday afternoon. "They won't be turned away."
State Senator Daniel Squadron called the far-away venue "a slap in the face."
"It's absurd that SUNY is responding to its unlawful lack of transparency with a shocking lack of transparency,” Squadron said Friday. "To hold a hearing nearly 40 miles away, without a reasonable opportunity for those most affected to testify, is simply a slap in the face to all those impacted.
"It continues to be clear that closing LICH makes no sense,” he added. “SUNY is only confirming that fact with its unwillingness to have an honest and open conversation. I call on the SUNY Board of Trustees to hold a meeting in New York City that complies with the Open Meetings Law and allows those impacted a chance to be heard."
"Do they really expect to hold a public hearing and vote on LICH in Westchester?" fumed Julie Semente, at nurse at LICH and member of the NYS Nurses Association. "How many of our community members can get to Westchester? The hardship that the distance would place on them would rob them of their right to participate.
"The public is supposed to have the opportunity to be present and participate in the public hearing," she added. "Our community consists of neighborhoods from Red Hook to DUMBO across this end of Brooklyn - not Westchester. SUNY should schedule a special public session to discuss LICH - just like they scheduled the special hearing last February. And it should be held at or near LICH to give all members of our community the opportunity to attend and be heard."
On Thursday Judge Baynes criticized the SUNY board’s violation of the Open Meetings Law that, he said, was “created to mandate transparency in the operation of government and its entities. In this way, the public is informed and decision-making cannot occur in secret.”
This story was updated Friday afternoon to add a comment from a SUNY spokesperson. It was also updated with a comment from Julie Semente and again with a comment from state Senator Squadron.