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Copake board proposes new law to allow videoconferencing

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COPAKE—The Town Board is considering adopting a local law that would allow board, committee and commission members to participate in meetings via videoconference “under extraordinary circumstances.”

The new Local Law #2 for 2022 was introduced at the board’s June 9 meeting.

The 2022-23 New York State budget bill included “an amendment to the Open Meetings Law (OML) to make permanent (until July 1, 2024) the expanded use of videoconferencing by public bodies to conduct open meetings, under extraordinary circumstances, regardless of a declaration of emergency,” according to a question and answer document on Chapter 56 of the Laws of 2022 prepared by the New York State Committee on Open Government (opengovernment.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2022/05/chapter-56-of-the-laws-of-2022-guidance-document-05-20-22.pdf.)

Copake Town Attorney Jonathan Tingley told the board that in-person board meetings must continue to be held and a quorum of board members must be physically present, but if one or two members cannot attend in person due to extraordinary circumstances, the local law would authorize them to do so remotely. The public can also attend any virtual public meeting.

Municipalities are required by state law to adopt written procedures that set the rules for how this virtual participation can take place, the attorney said.

Copake Supervisor Jeanne Mettler noted that the Columbia County Board of Supervisors has adopted such a law. She said that the board can “fine tune” what extraordinary circumstances would be.

The law gives examples of “extraordinary circumstances,” such as: “disability, illness, caregiving responsibilities, or any other significant or unexpected factor or event which precludes the member’s physical attendance at such meeting.”

Supervisor Mettler asked Mr. Tingley if the Town Board’s adoption of the law dictates what the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals must do.

Mr. Tingley said by adopting the law, the Town Board does not compel other boards to do the same, but makes the option available.

The Town Board should adopt related procedures, he said, so there can be consistency among all boards. The Planning Board and Zoning Board can adopt their own procedures but they must be consistent with the Town Board’s, should they choose to allow members to attend meetings by videoconference, he said.

Councilman Jeffrey Judd asked whether a member attending a meeting remotely can vote. Mr. Tingley said that while a member attending remotely does not count toward a quorum, as long as the member can be seen and heard simultaneously during the meeting that member can vote and their vote will be counted.

Supervisor Mettler spoke in favor of the law saying it will be a “good move” and allow board members “flexibility.”

“We’ve had some very good conversations and even debates remotely,” she said.

The new law was scheduled for a public hearing at the July 14 Town Board meeting at 6:45 p.m.

In other business:

*The board heard about an instance of vandalism at Copake Memorial Park, Sunday, June 5. Ms. Mettler reported that the town had just recently installed additional new cameras at the park, where vandalism has been an ongoing issue.

The town’s Building Custodian Bob Callahan reported that someone yanked the sinks and paper towel holders off the walls in the public bathrooms in broad daylight. The matter has been reported to police. Since the cameras were installed prior to this latest incident, images of the culprits will be available for evidence purposes

*The board agreed to spend up to $1,500 for an appraisal of 22-acres of land along the Bash Bish Brook. The land belongs to the Kiernan family and the town is interested in purchasing it to create the “Copake Spur,” a linear park connecting the Harlem Valley Rail Trail along Weed Mine Road to the Copake hamlet by creating a passageway under State Route 22. The town tried to get a grant for the spur, but found out that the town must own the land first

*The board resolved to declare Juneteeth a holiday in the Town of Copake to be observed June 20, 2022 and amend the Town Policy Manual to include the holiday. The day is a federal holiday (see the Page 1 story “Juneteenth’s holiday status underscores message of freedom”).

“A century and a half later, people in cities and towns across the U.S. continue to celebrate the occasion,” says the Copake resolution, and “there is a renewed interest in the day that celebrates freedom…and the celebration continues to resonate in new ways, as this Nation continues to work towards a more perfect Union.”

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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