New Public Meeting Requirement Needs A Fix
June 30, 2021
In recent months (since the pandemic), members of Town Boards, City Councils, School Boards and citizen advisory boards have gotten used to meeting by Zoom–from the comforts of their homes. Recently, the Governor issued a directive requiring Boards (including all volunteer boards) to meet in person. But there is a ridiculous provision in the state law requiring board members who can’t participate in person to continue to participate via Zoom, but ONLY IF THEY OPEN UP THEIR HOMES TO THE PUBLIC WHILE THEY ARE PARTICIPATING IN THE ZOOM CALL.
The law, as written, discourages participation. It’s a step backwards. I am reaching out to the Governor and State Legislators asking that the law be changed.
At this point in time, with the emergence of a new, highly contagious variant of the COVID virus, it is unconscionable to require unpaid volunteers belonging to a public body to choose between the discomfort of meeting in a small public conference room or opening their home to strangers.
I suggest that this law be amended to allow Board members to continue to participate in meetings via Zoom without opening up their homes to the public just to observe their vote.
This would allow a citizen volunteer who has just had surgery to participate without further disruption to his or her recovery.
It would further allow a committee member who has lost a family member to COVID to participate without exacerbating family and personal stresses.
It would allow members who have opened their house only to close family members due to the risk of COVID contagion to continue participating in meetings via Zoom.
Even before COVID, very few people open their houses to strangers. Who knows what the situation will be in the fall when millions of Americans return from vacations in faraway lands.
The State Legislature and Governor should recognize the advantages of technology. Zoom meetings have increased citizen involvement and participation. Members’ views and votes recorded on Zoom are no less transparent than those rendered in person. Dedicated volunteers and Board members who can’t make meetings due to illnesses, business or personal issues should be encouraged to continue to participate.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor
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