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Call-In Meeting Options Should Live On

Thu, 03/24/2022 - 05:36


Live-streamed local government and school board meetings are here to stay. Among the many changes that Covid-19 has brought, this is a positive one and one that was successful in increasing community participation. But whether viewer call-ins will continue to be allowed is something still being considered by state lawmakers.

Initially, the pandemic caused a shift to remote meetings in which participating officials and the public could interact in real time. This allowed folks at home or during work hours to see the process in action and even comment via phone if so moved. Here in East Hampton, LTV Studios did the technical work of coordinating Zoom streams with the remote audience — Jason Nower, an LTV staff member, emerged as something of a local celebrity as he deftly kept the meetings flowing smoothly, juggling live callers and the occasional technical glitch.

There are several reasons why call-ins should be continued. Broadly, the more people who are engaged in government, the greater the chances that elected officials will be responsive to their needs. Few community members have the time or level of interest to attend meetings in person; this would be a way to encourage their participation statewide. Regionally, the East End is prohibitively distant from Suffolk Legislature sessions, which means that someone who wants to address county legislators directly has to plan a day trip, usually to Hauppauge and back. For the vast number of town and village taxpaying property owners who are here only part of the year, allowing phone-ins to continue seems only fair. Whether public call-ins continue depends on whether the State Assembly and Senate approve a bill allowing that kind of open-meetings access after the pandemic state of emergency is over.

Support from Gov. Kathy Hochul is likely. When she signed a bill in September that extended the Covid-19 virtual meetings option, she made a point of saying it improved New Yorkers’ access to government by allowing for more options to view public meetings. “This law will continue to bolster the open and transparent style of government that we’re committed to maintaining in the Empire State,” she said.

Yes, inevitably there will be cranks and those who abuse the privilege, but enforcing a time limit on public comments — at the touch of a button — seems a lot easier than coaxing a zealous live audience member away from the podium.

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