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Equal Time: What gives with the Southold Town Board?

Lack of transparency, no accountability and exclusion continues on the Southold Town Board. Although we have finally joined the 21st century and have our meetings via Zoom, several of the Town Board members are now trying to block other board members from being able to participate in the executive session portions of our meetings. 

False rumors of eavesdroppers at our homes and antiquated opinions from the supervisor and other board members about the security of the encrypted software of Zoom are the basis for their arguments, also citing hacking that was reported in other municipalities months ago. Many virtual platforms, including Zoom, have made leaps and bounds in their security since March; in fact, Zoom updates its security software every couple of days. Zoom allows one person to control the meeting, which is comprised of “panelists” and “attendees;” the only participants allowed to speak or have video are the “panelists.” They are given a code specific to them by the host of the video. 

There is not a way for any other person to be part of the meeting. When we conduct executive session, the host clears all attendees from the meeting so that only the assigned panelists remain and then locks the meeting so that no other participants can join. Again, there is no way for any other person to be part of the meeting and even if somehow a hacker got the link to join, the host would have to accept them into the meeting, which obviously wouldn’t happen as the host knows who is supposed to be present and who isn’t.

This lack of trust in other members and in technology is just another stunt by the status quo to exclude members of the Town Board and further opacity with the public. One of our members joins us each meeting from Fishers Island; previous to COVID-19 that was a cost to the taxpayers for her travel and accommodations — which was a necessary cost as she is an elected member of the Town Board.

Now she is able to join us virtually, but is being alienated from important discussions as is any board member who chooses not to participate in person during this pandemic. Each of the other board members and any employees that have business before the board who attend these meetings are risking their health and safety and the health and safety of their families for literally no reason. It is irresponsible of the supervisor and the board members who back him to require attendance of the employees of the town and attendance of the board in order to participate in the meetings. Suggested attendance is one thing, but requirement is exclusionary. 

I have asked for another strategy to be put forward if virtual meetings are not the way the majority wants to go, but none has been offered. Now our time runs short with our consulting firm and there is no plan for how these meetings will be moderated going forward. With thousands of companies, municipalities, and corporations moving to this model the success stories far outweigh the failures (even within our own Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board). 

So, this begs the question many keep asking over and over: What gives with the Town Board?

Ms. Nappa is a Democrat serving her first term on the Southold Town Board.