Local governments differ on virtual meeting plans

Various local governmental bodies have different plans when it comes to holding meetings during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Some boards are being held virtually, while others will continue holding in-person meetings unless something changes drastically.

Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist said the city has been live-streaming meetings since before the pandemic began.

“We started back in January, and once COVID hit, we did go to virtual meetings,” Sundquist said. “We were able to just continue that. We’ve been doing it for quite some time. We went back in person after a lot of the restrictions have been lifted. It seems to me based on my conversations with our city council that we’ll continue with those in-person meetings.”

Sunquist said the council recommends individuals wear masks and socially distance themselves during the meetings, but those who cannot join in person and watch live on the city’s website and through other streaming services. Guests are asked to submit any comments in advance of meetings, and they will be read at the meeting.

“It’s worked out well,” Sundquist said. “For those that can’t join us or don’t feel comfortable joining us can still make their voice heard and watch the meeting.”

Sundquist said the city has also been working on a way to create a hybrid meeting model for those who have been quarantined, which would allow a council member who has been quarantined to continue to participate in meetings. It can be tricky, he said, as the open meetings law technically reads that members of the public must be able to be physically present in whatever location a council member is in.

“You’ve always been able to do hybrid models like teleconference and in-person under the open meetings law, but the law specifically states that you need to allow any member of the public to be at the location that that council member or board member is at,” he said. “What made that challenging is as people starting getting quarantined and they’re there virtually from their home, technically, under the law, people from the public should be able to go into that person’s home.”

Sundquist said there have been exemptions made to the law due to COVID-19; however, those extensions end in January. Thus, Sundquist said his administration has been “pushing the legislature” to make some of those changes permanent.

County Executive PJ Wendel said county officials have not discussed moving to virtual meetings as of yet, but the county Legislature is planning on continuing to stream its meetings.

“They plan to continue that, and the other piece right now is we moved all of our committee meetings into the legislative chambers which spreads people out,” Wendel said. “That gives us a little bit more room as well, plus the technology is there to video record and stream those. We are making the efforts to kind of reach out to more people, and we will continue that. IF the wise thing to do is continue with our Zoom meetings of the legislature, then we’ll continue that for as long as we need to. That may be something that continues into the future.”

As for completely virtual meetings, Wendel said the county will continue monitoring the COVID-19 cases and make decisions as needed.

Falconer Central School District Superintendent Stephen Penhollow said the board will stick with in-person meetings unless something changes.

“We’re planning on keeping in-person as long as possible,” Penhollow said. “No plans to pivot yet — we’re prepared to do so if needed.”

While the village of Lakewood currently holds virtual meetings. Mayor Randy Holcomb said the board has discussed the matter in question.

“The current village of Lakewood Board of Trustees holds in-person meetings in the Lakewood Village boardroom with three members present and two members on Zoom,” Holcomb said. “We will continue Zoom through the month of January. I have spoken with new members coming on the Village Board of Trustees in Lakewood and they have both said that they are comfortable meeting in person in the boardroom. At that time we will most likely not use Zoom unless there is a specific reason.”


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