Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public attendance at local government meetings has been banned. But local governments are conducting public business by way of video meetings.
Yates County, Penn Yan Village, Dundee Village, and other groups have held remote meetings online since the State of Emergency was declared. The Dundee School Board of Education has streamed meetings live for several months.
Find out more about what local meetings are held online by contacting your local municipality for details.
The New York Coalition for Open Government has compiled some steps to keep the public informed:
1) Posting meeting agendas and meeting documents online – Even before the Coronavirus, many local governments were not posting meeting documents online for the public to see. The public should be able to view the same documents elected officials have before them at a meeting. The entire packet of information that elected officials have before them should be posted online several days before a meeting occurs. Watching elected officials conduct a meeting by video without being able to view meeting documents is unacceptable.
2) Meetings Should be Live Streamed and recordings posted online – Government meetings conducted by video should be available to view live or to watch at a later date. Government websites should make it clear where the public has to go to watch meetings. The technology available through Zoom, Facebook, Skype, etc. is readily accessible and not difficult to manage.
3) Public Comments should be solicited – Prior to the Coronavirus most public bodies, but not all, provided the opportunity for citizens to address agenda items and general community concerns. Public comments typically have a time limit of several minutes. While meetings are being conducted through video, efforts should be made to obtain public comments in real time.
Public comments can occur during a meeting in real time by:
- reading email submissions;
- providing a telephone number for comments to be made by telephone;
- just as elected officials appear by video so can members of the public;
- Chat or Facebook comments
4) Timely Posting of Meeting Minutes – Posting meeting minutes as soon as possible, after a meeting occurs is important for keeping the public informed. Minutes should ideally be posted within two weeks of a meeting occurring and definitely before the next meeting occurs.
“In the best of times ensuring that government operates in an open and transparent way is often difficult. In an emergency situation it is even more important for local governments to do everything they can to provide information to the public and to hear from their citizens,” said Paul Wolf, Esq., President of the New York Coalition For Open Government.
For more information about the New York Coalition For Open Government, visit www.nyopengov.org