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Microphone off at Board meeting? It’s all OK, says good government watchdog

Those accessing the Dec. 14 Town Board work session via Zoom may have been surprised when members took a break after a two-hour discussion and the microphones in the room were silenced.

The reason for the break was to allow those who had been in the room for the discussion of an engineer’s report on a proposed municipal wastewater treatment system to leave the room and to give Town Board members a brief break before resuming the meeting.

But shutting the sound is neither unusual, nor illegal, according to attorney Jake Forken with the New York State Committee on Open Government.

What happened for a few minutes at the Board meeting “sounds proper,” Mr. Forken said.

It’s hardly unusual for such a break, but pre-COVID, when those interested in meetings were assembled in the Town Hall meeting room, everyone who wanted to stay in the room did so. With the use of Zoom technology used since the pandemic, the silence appeared strange to some viewers who experienced the silence.

Prior to the silence, it was announced that a brief recess would take place and some Town Board members individually left the room. Despite an occasional conversation between a couple of members, the exchange was brief and didn’t appear to be about Town business. There was never a time during that break when more than two members were observed talking to one another, which is legitimate as long as there isn’t a quorum conducting a conversation.

As soon as all members returned to the table, the microphones were turned on and the meeting continued.