Editorial: A heightened level of transparency in town

Tuesday's Town Board work session being recorded by test equipment. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)
A Town Board work session in April being recorded by test equipment. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

For the first time ever, Southold Town aired one of its Town Board work sessions on government access channel 22 this weekend. The meeting was featured twice Saturday and two more times on Sunday. 

Giving people the opportunity to watch these meetings is an important step toward increasing transparency within town government. Before this, the town only televised official Town Board meetings, yet work sessions are where things get discussed at greater length. And, unlike official Town Board meetings, held on Tuesday evenings, work sessions take place Tuesday mornings at 9 a.m. — not exactly an ideal time for most working residents to show up in person.

Airing these meetings on weekends enables more members of the public to see our local government in action. This move also brings Southold’s government channel more in line with its counterparts in Riverhead and Brookhaven towns, where all Town Board, Planning Board and ZBA meetings are broadcast throughout the month. Southold is currently exploring the possibility of doing the same.

If you take the time to watch these meetings — we haven’t checked with Nielsen in a while, but we imagine some of you do tune in — we think you’ll find the Town Board is fairly open with constituents. Last week’s regular meeting was a good example of this.

A dozen people showed up to speak out about the town’s proposed short-term rental law and engaged in a back-and-forth discussion with board members for about 90 minutes.

Nobody’s comments were timed, they heard feedback from the board and they were given the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Even though a public hearing is scheduled for June on this very issue, and the dialogue more than doubled the length of the meeting, the Town Board seemed genuinely pleased to engage on the topic.

In other municipalities, such as Greenport Village and Brookhaven Town, the boards have a history of not responding during the public comment portion of open meetings. In the latter, they even keep a running clock, and your microphone is cut off soon after time runs out. This process makes for more efficient meetings, but they’re also far less informative, allowing public officials to hide behind rules when they don’t want to answer a certain question.

That’s not the case in Southold, and this town is better for it. Don’t believe us? Grab your remote control and see for yourself.