Can a member of a Greenport Village Zoning Board participate in board meetings through a video conference program like Skype?
That’s the question the Village Trustees initially took up at its work session meeting on Thursday night.
Instead, they informally decided to have all village meetings broadcast live over the Internet on a website like gotomeeting.com. A formal vote on that issue is expected at an upcoming meeting.
The issue came up in December when village ZBA chairman Douglas Moore said he would be away for three months and asked if he could still participate remotely through videoconferencing.
The Village Trustees agreed to make a decision rather than the ZBA.
“I think the parameters and the guidelines should come from this board,” Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said at Thursday night’s Trustee meeting. “We should set policy for the village. It we’re going to allow it or we’re not going to allow it, it should come from us, and if we are, we should set the guidelines that other boards have to follow.”
The proposal didn’t appear to have three votes.
“I’m not a supporter of it,” Trustee Julia Robins said.
Mr. Hubbard cautioned that it could become easier for people to skip meetings and watch from home instead.
Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she wouldn’t have a problem with live video at Planning Board meetings, but not at ZBA meetings, which are quasi-judicial proceedings.
Mr. Hubbard said the video would be allowed for all village boards if it gets approved.
Trustee Jack Martilotta said he has no problem allowing videoconferencing but said board members cannot vote by videoconference. Village Attorney Joe Prokop had previously told the board voting via video is not permitted, but he said he is not positive and will continue to research that issue.
Trustee Doug Roberts said he is often either videoconferencing or audioconferencing at his job.
He said state law, which requires the person videoconferencing to allow the public to be where he or she is and to post a public notice saying where he or she will be when the meeting takes place, is complicated and “sounds like we’re making a special accommodation for someone who chooses to spend time away from this amazing place.”
Mr. Roberts suggested that all village meetings be broadcast live so that when board members are away, they can still stay informed on the issues.
Websites such as gotomeeting.com allow meetings to be broadcast live and allow the public to comment on issues being discussed, he said.
In these instances, the chair of the meeting can announce comments from people watching the webcast.
Mr. Roberts said if a board member was to comment or ask a question through the webcast, that person could identify themselves as a board member.
“What we’re really talking about is whether one of our [ZBA] board members with institutional knowledge should be able to participate and be able to listen in and then be able to vote and be productive in future meetings when they get back,” Mr. Roberts said. “We don’t have a ton of people coming out of the woodwork a lot of time, which we’re grateful for.”
Mr. Roberts said he doesn’t expect a lot of people to watch the video of a village meeting, but added, “If we get one more person in the village to participate in what’s going on, that’s a win for us.”
The gotomeeting.com site costs about $50 per month, he said. Board members said they didn’t have a problem with that.
Mr. Hubbard said the board will consider voting on that proposal at a future meeting.
Mr. Prokop said watching a webcast of a meeting would not officially count a “member participation” for a board member.
Photo Caption: The Greenport Village board discussed video conferencing Thursday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)