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Open Meetings No reason to bar public, press

A piece of legislation passed last week by the state Assembly and Senate drew Assemblyman Andrew Goodell’s ire.

We couldn’t agree with the Jamestown Republican more.

The bill, A.8591/S.7623, continues the state’s authorization for local governments to move to remote meetings as long as the local government provides audio of the meeting and to make verbatim transcripts available. That authorization also allows the local boards to bar the public from attending in person.

Gov. Kathy Hochul should veto this provision.

First, audio-only is nearly useless unless each and every speaker introduces themselves every time they speak. Sound quality has been an issue for many local boards that moved to remote-only meetings during the early days of the pandemic, and boards that didn’t have a name-card in front of members were difficult to follow even for professionals used to covering government meetings.

Second, nothing prevents local governments from providing an audio or video option for interested constituents to listen to or watch a meeting. Mayor Eddie Sundquist knows that full well. Shortly after taking office Jamestown meetings have been live-streamed on Facebook. Dunkirk Common Council meetings are broadcast and Chautauqua County meetings are streamed live on the Internet. The state needed to take no action for those governments to put their meetings online.

We hope, however, that no local governments takes the state up on its offer to ban the public. If Chautauqua County residents can be part of a crowd of 80,000 people at Highmark Stadium to watch the Buffalo Bills, then a local town board or school board can make its meeting open to the handful of people interested enough to attend.

There is absolutely no reason for any local board to bar the public or the press from attending a meeting. It was ludicrous for the state to give its blessing to closing meetings. We hope Hochul sides with public access and vetoes this legislation in favor of a new bill that guarantees public access.

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