Columns

Equal Time: Board members should lead by example

Let me understand this. According to Councilwoman Sarah Nappa, the Town Board holding public meetings in a public building while utilizing Zoom and broadcasting live on the town’s website shows a lack of transparency? Got it. There are just a few kinks in her argument that need to be worked out. First, the Town Board, and some employees, had already been meeting in person safely prior to Zoom by following proper protocol. Second, her new-found concern for employee safety is bit insincere given her lack of concern in the past.

Despite Ms. Nappa’s hard-sell of the virtues of Zoom, it is widely recognized by experts in the industry, and by the company itself, that the security has some holes to fill. Besides, no one is proposing eliminating Zoom from the meetings, only from executive sessions. Employees can still choose to attend the public portion of the work session via Zoom or in person. The few who do come to executive session are simply being asked to meet with a handful of people in the largest room in all of town government. The irony is, they are already here working each day —  in offices that are fully staffed with much less workspace. They have been for several weeks. This didn’t seem to be much of a concern to her before.

Back in April, I asked Ms Nappa to work with two board members to develop a comprehensive reopening plan. The intent was to provide a smooth transition as we looked to get the town up and running again with an emphasis on ensuring employee safety. The report I got back was rather thin and made recommendations that were already available on the CDC website. Did she go building-to-building, office-to-office to see if the workspace people were returning to needed to be reconfigured, relocated or have barriers installed to ensure proper distancing? No. 

Did she contact the department heads or employees to see what suggestions or concerns they may have had? No. Did she ever reach out to any managers or employees who continued to work during the height of the pandemic, some of whom had to have regular contact with the public, to see if they had any needs or concerns? Another no. 

All employees were brought back to work several weeks ago. Now that all offices are functioning, did she follow up with any department heads or staff to see if they still had concerns? No. The fact is many of the department heads and most of the workers have never even met Ms. Nappa, despite my offer to take her from department to department and introduce her when she first took office.

Yeah, that was another no, too.

No one is trying to alienate board members from participating in meetings. The issue of communication with Justice Evans was easily solved with the purchase of new audio equipment. As the board has been discussing resuming in-person meetings, most of Ms. Nappa’s objections focused on her own safety.

The employees are all back to work. Some never stopped. If they are expected to show up, so should we. As board members we should lead by example, as some other town boards already are. Creating two sets of rules, one for the board and one for the employees, shows an absolute contempt for the town’s workers. Zoom is an excellent tool that offers expanded access and greater participation by the public. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to have to drive to Town Hall once every two weeks.

Mr. Russell is the Southold Town supervisor.