With County coronavirus cases climbing, the time to return to purely online meetings may be nigh. At its September 2 meeting, New Paltz Town Council members braced for the possibility of having to flout State law by switching to a virtual format. However, one of Governor Hochul’s first acts was to sign a new law allowing for virtual meetings under rules similar to the ones that were in force under emergency powers earlier in the pandemic.
Supervisor Neil Bettez noted that each format has advantages. It tends to be easier to hear during a fully virtual meeting; Bettez noted that the wearing of masks makes it harder for some to follow along. On the other hand, Bettez and others find that it’s easier to communicate with others who are physically present. Another fan of meeting in person, Dan Torres, doesn’t think it will be happening much in the coming weeks. If there’s a meeting held in the new justice center in October, Torres predicted it will end up being “a quick ceremonial one, just to say we did it.”
Under the new rules, if council members opt for a hybrid meeting, they have the right to clear the physical space of all members of the public and require that they attend virtually. That could come in handy if, for example, there’s a contentious public hearing scheduled; rather than packing a great many people into the room, they all could be asked to stay at home and participate that way.
Council members who connect from a distance no longer have to post the address where they will be, but they do have to have their faces visible in order to vote. At the September 2 meeting, Julie Seyfert-Lillis called in and thus was unable to vote on any matter.
Bettez was pleased that Hochul was able to take swift action. These rules are in force through January, and may be extended.