Town will pass law to continue virtual participation in meetings

Changes in New York State’s open meetings law will require Southold Town to pass a local law in order to continue video meetings. 

Legislation enacted in the newly passed state budget is meant to enhance “the public’s ability to access government remotely, while still protecting the public right to directly petition their government representatives in person,” according to a press release from Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).

Under the new law, all state and local public bodies would be allowed to use videoconferencing to conduct hybrid public meetings. Municipalities, however, must first pass a local law authorizing the use of videoconferencing, and must establish written procedures governing attendance consistent with state law and make them available online. At authorized hybrid meetings, there must be an in-person quorum. Members may participate online under “extraordinary circumstances,” such as illness or caregiving responsibilities. 

Video meetings must allow for public participation. Public notices for meetings should note ahead of time whether they will be on video, how the public can participate in or view the meeting and where required documents and records will be posted or available, and must identify the physical location of the meeting where the public can attend.

Video meetings should be recorded and posted online within five business days, and remain available online for at least five years.

The current authority to hold virtual meetings without public in-person access was to continue for 60 days after the law’s passage. After that, virtual-only meetings may only be held under a state of emergency.

“I think there needs to be an understanding that Zoom wasn’t a temporary fix, that it’s here, it’s going to stay,” Supervisor Scott Russell said at the April 26 work session. The board indicated it plans to discuss the policy again at the next work session.

“There’s no reason why Zoom isn’t a part of every meeting, at the very least for observance,” Mr. Russell added.