In The Spotlight’s April 13th edition, an article appeared on page two entitled “To phone it in” and an editorial appeared on page 14 entitled “Be Careful with phoning it in.” The editorial states that my proposed local law “will allow board members to attend meetings through tele… conference from anywhere…. A civil debate over ideas can’t be done well over telephone lines.”
Unfortunately, both the article and editorial grossly mis-characterize both the content and intent of my proposed Local Law. The law clarifies that Town Board members need not be physically present in Bethlehem while participating in a meeting taking place via video. The law does not expand the use of video or encourage our Board to meet via video. There is no proposal to allow town officials to ever participate “via telephone.”
To be clear, state law (Public Officers Law 103(c)) (which trumps local law) allows boards to meet via video. The state budget which was approved last week amends and adds a new section to the Public Officers Law, setting criteria for how all “public bodies” may meet via video.
Here in Bethlehem, the only time our Board met via video was pursuant to the Governor’s emergency orders when Covid case numbers were high and public health officials advised against public meetings. Our Board has, thankfully, returned to in-person meetings at Town Hall. We have no intention to return to video meetings. We do not have the technical capability to allow a Town Board member to participate via video in a live in-person Town Board meeting.
None of the Board members have even remotely suggested that Board members participate via telephone or to “phone it in” to our meetings. I drafted the proposed law in January, when we were still holding video meetings, based on a recommendation by the NYS Association of Towns. We have all become familiar with Zoom meetings these past two years. Most of the time a Zoom meeting occurs, no one knows where the persons participating are physically located.
At my request, the local law was pulled from the April 13 agenda so that we can review the new changes the state made to the Public Officers Law last week. I agree with the editorial’s statement that “our elected officials be accessible to those who voted them into office.” Our Board members are accessible via email and before and after our Board meetings.
The proposed law, if passed, would make your public officials even more accessible as it would allow a member to participate in a Zoom meeting (if we, unfortunately, go back to video meetings) even when that official happens to be physically present outside the boundaries of Bethlehem.
I hope, for everyone’s sake, that we do not return to video meetings as I very much looking forward to seeing everyone in person at our Town Hall in-person meetings.
Bethlehem Town Board