Featured Story

Board holds hearing on local law to allow members to attend meetings virtually

A proposed local law that was subject to a public hearing Tuesday would allow Town Board members to remotely attend meetings under “extraordinary circumstances.”

The board discussed the measure in September at a work session shortly after the pandemic-related suspension of the state’s Open Meetings Law ended. The state had provided towns a boilerplate resolution it can consider passing to allow limited use of videoconferencing.

The “extraordinary circumstances” is defined in the updated town code as “disability, illness, caregiving responsibilities, or any other significant or unexpected factor or event which precludes the member’s physical attendance at such meeting.”

Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel, the former town supervisor, questioned whether the code is written in a way that all board members could potentially be remote, leaving members of the public in an empty room.

“Out of respect for the public, it’s important that board members are here,” she said, while also saying the “extraordinary circumstance” definition is too broad.

Town attorney Erik Howard said the intent is to a physical quorum.

“That could be confusing, but I don’t think that’s the intention,” he said. “I think the intention of this is always to have a physical quorum present here, except in the case of a declared disaster.”

The code says a board member who is participating remotely at a location not open to in-person physical attendance by the public cannot count toward a quorum, but that board member could still participate and vote if there is a quorum of board members at a physical location to the public. Board members who are participating from a remote location that is open to the public and that location was properly listed in a meeting notice, can count toward a quorum and fully participate and vote.

Councilman Ken Rothwell said he believed the board typically has good attendance and this measure allows the government to still function in case another pandemic-like situation forces more distancing.

No other members of the public commented at the hearing. The hearing will remain open for written comment until 4:30 p.m. Nov. 14.