Shelter Island editorial: Joining the 21st century

COURTESY PHOTO | It's time for town government to use technology effectively.
COURTESY PHOTO | It’s time for town government to use technology effectively.

Islanders have always taken pride in their independence.

But that independence needs to be met by the town government’s response to the realities of how it must function effectively.

Many active, engaged citizens here are retired and spend time in southern climes in the winter. Other concerned residents aren’t on the Island full-time for various reasons, while others are working and unable to get to day or evening committee meetings.

Those who call in to meetings often find their participation limited by what they can hear being discussed. And those physically present in the meeting room often can’t hear what those phoning in are saying. On top of that, by joining the meeting via phone, committee members are not allowed to vote on issues.

The unfortunate result is the work of some committees is severely compromised, especially during the off season, because it’s difficult to get a quorum to carry out business.

The Island is faced with two such situations right now — the Waterways Management Advisory Council and the Deer & Tick Committee.

Several members of the WMAC have indicated they would be unable to make meetings this winter. Deer & Tick Committee meetings frequently depend on the ability of members to phone in because they have to be off-Island.

The solution for 2016 isn’t elusive.

To allow these important committees to function smoothly, there has to be an up-to-date visual communications system installed, allowing members to be seen on screen as they communicate and, if necessary, to vote.

State law also requires advance notice that a member will be participating from another venue and that venue must be open to others who wish to participate in the meeting.

True, it’s unlikely others would join a member at a remote location, but that doesn’t relieve the town of the responsibility of providing an advance posting of where a member will be while participating in the meeting.

Millions use Skype and other visual telecommunication services for important business and governmental meetings. In addition to their reliability, these services are not prohibitively expensive.

It’s time for the Town Board to install the necessary equipment, taking steps to meet the administrative requirements for a committee’s work to move forward without technical glitches or shutting anyone out.