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Supervisor's Corner: The Challenges of Conducting Board Meetings During COVID-19

By Webster Town Supervisor Tom Flaherty

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One of the most important functions of Webster Town Government is to conduct various board meetings that are open to the public to attend and participate in. COVID-19 has created challenges to these meetings being open to the public, and for the public to be active in them.


I'm proud to say that the Board chairs, communication director, and IT manager have met that challenge "head on" and have come up with a manner in which to hold these meetings in May 2020 to maintain the integrity of the letter and spirit of open meeting laws.


To understand the challenge faced and its remedy, I'd like to first describe the various board meetings. There are town board meetings of the supervisor and the four elected council members. These include regular town board meetings the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m., and town board workshop meetings the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month at 5:30 p.m. Regular meetings are where resolutions, ordinances, and/or laws would be voted on. Public hearings occur at these, too. Workshops are less formal and are where discussion occurs between board members and the public on issues important to the town. Planning board meetings are held the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month, and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month. 


All of these board meetings are conducted at the Town Board Meeting Room in the court building across the parking lot from Webster Town Hall. Except for the town board workshops, they are all televised live to be viewed by the public on channel 1303 on Spectrum and on various streaming services. All of the agendas for these board meetings are posted in the Webster Herald, on various town government websites, and social media platforms. Simply said... all these board meetings are open to the public, and the public should be made aware of them and what agenda items they may be interested in that are going to be discussed. 


The biggest challenge COVID-19 has posed to these board meetings is the potential of having to close them down to the public to attend in person. In late March and for the better part of April, the town addressed that challenge by just canceling all board meetings except for the regular town board meeting on April 2 and 16th. Even with those two regular board meetings, COVID-19 posed challenges of social distancing the board members in the room along with other department heads. This was remedied with some creative positioning of tables in the room to keep us all at least 15 feet apart, and teleconferencing of some board members from their homes. We also used some call-in and email-in techniques to implore public interaction during the meeting. 


On Thursday, April 23 at 5:30 p.m., the town board workshop will be conducted for the first time since March 12. On Tuesday, May 5, the Planning Board will meet for the first time since March, and on Tuesday, May 12, the Zoning Board of Appeals will meet for the first time since March. These meetings will be conducted with a hybrid of board members in the room and ones teleconferencing and/or video conferencing in. These meetings will be conducted with a mindfulness of the letter of the law and spirit of public interaction. As such, means will be made available for the public to do so.


As always, if you have any questions for me, please call (585) 872-7068 or email supervisor@ci.webster.ny.us


STAY UPBEAT, WEBSTER! WE'RE GOING TO GET THROUGH THIS.

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***Please consider donating to Webster Online’s GoFundMe to keep this independently-run news site operating and Webster residents informed during these challenging times.***

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