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State changes policy on virtual meeting, Town Attorney to get clarifications

The Town Board is leaning toward continuing hybrid meetings for the public, but requiring members of that Board and other committees to attend meetings in person.

No firm decision was reached at Tuesday’s work session, because Town Attorney Stephen Kiely is awaiting clarity from New York State on changes to the Open Meetings Law. He then will draft a resolution to be discussed at next week’s work session.

Virtual meetings were introduced in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as of Tuesday, the state law changed, Mr. Kiely said. He has reached out to the Committee on Open Government in Albany for guidance.

As he outlined it to the Town Board, the intent is to require attendance by public officials unless they are ill, disabled, responsible for care giving or any significant unexpected reason.

Town Board members could adopt changes only for themselves or choose to have policies apply to its committees as well.

But there would likely be a provision to allow certain individuals who meet with committees to access meetings virtually to keep expenses down. Among them would be a lawyer and engineer who meet with the Planning Board. They are not Islanders and Zoom has enabled them to avoid having to come to town for evening meetings, Councilwoman Meg Larsen said.

The same would be true for the Town’s grants writer, Jennifer Messiano Higham, who uses Zoom to access meetings.

But voting members of these committees and boards would be expected to attend in person.

Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla expressed concern about whether, if she had to miss a meeting, she could participate in discussions of issues as a Town Board member even though she would be unable to vote remotely.

Another issue involving meetings is the latest suggestion for changing meeting days and times for Town Board members. Ms. Ianfolla raised the issue at a previous meeting, looking to reduce the number of work sessions and regular meetings since, in addition to the Town Board meetings, all members are liaisons to several committees, requiring additional meetings each week.

The latest suggestion came from Councilman Jim Colligan who suggested two or three work sessions a month and one regular meeting, and after one of the work sessions, a short special meeting to accommodate approval of bill payments at least twice a month.

These was discussion this week about ending Friday regular meetings and moving all meetings to Tuesdays. One work session would be held on Tuesday with a break and then a regular Town Board meeting would be convened, perhaps at 6 p.m. to vote on resolutions and hold public hearings.

The aim of any change is so meetings are “more accessible for the public — more efficient for us,” Supervisor Gerry Siller said. The subject remains open for discussion. If a change is made, the Board agreed it would be done on a trial basis with a reassessment months later deciding if it should be abandoned, altered or retained.

No public hearing is necessary before the Town Board could change the meeting time and dates, Mr. Kiely said.