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No in-person quorum, no meeting: New state ruling bans discussion

The Water Advisory Committee came up against the state’s new rules on in-person attendance by members of boards and committees in order to hold a meeting.

Only three of seven members were at Town Hall Monday afternoon, even though a fourth was available on a Zoom link. Because that member was out of the country, the committee lacked an in-person quorum and those in the room couldn’t have a discussion, much less vote if that was necessary.

Town Attorney Stephen Kiely explained that because a discussion might lead to a later action requiring a vote, it would be illegal under the revised state mandate to even call it an “unofficial meeting.”

Prior to the pandemic, the New York State Open Meetings Law allowed members to participate remotely, but they were supposed to indicate where they would be and to allow anyone in that area to come to that venue if anyone chose to do so.

Now, unless there’s an “emergency,” members must be present in person to be counted as part of a quorum. Emergencies could be illness or unexpected care-giving responsibilities, Mr. Kiely said.

Emergencies don’t cover vacations, work travel or spending part of the year off-Island. A member has to respond to a meeting notice at least four hours in advance, with a last-minute emergency that could be a sudden illness that he or she or a member of their household suffers, which requires them to be at home.

During the height of the pandemic, most meetings were held virtually. Shelter Island is continuing to allow the public to attend with Zoom access, with the Town Board deciding that it has encouraged residents to participate. But that’s not the case for members.

Notice of the change was announced a couple of weeks ago, but wasn’t implemented until Friday, Sept. 16, Mr. Kiely said.

The WAC will try to reschedule the meeting within a week to avoid having to wait until the regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 17.