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Back to In-Person Meetings, With Concerns

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 09:37

The East Hampton Town in-person meetings will resume at Town Hall today, with a 2 p.m. town board meeting, but some officials, citing the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus and compromised immune systems, are not ready to return to the format.

The resumption of in-person meetings follows nearly 16 months of virtual meetings made necessary by the pandemic that brought an abrupt halt to most activity in March 2020.

An announcement on Monday stated that the public may attend the meetings at East Hampton Town Hall, but that those who were not vaccinated must wear a face covering.

Remote meeting service will continue for members of the board or presenters who cannot appear in person, and a call-in number for public comment, 351-888-6331, will remain in use.

However, per New York State regulations, following the end of a statewide state of emergency last week, all comments on public hearings must be made in person or in writing to the town clerk at [email protected], or by mail to Carole Brennan, 159 Pantigo Road, East Hampton 11937. Callers who wish to weigh in on public hearing matters will be asked to submit their comments in writing, and hearings will be held open for one week to allow for receipt of comments.

The meetings will continue to be broadcast live on LTV's channel 22 and on LTV's YouTube channel, and live-streamed at ltveh.org.

While hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 have fallen dramatically as some 180 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, the Delta variant is significantly more contagious than earlier variants, and eight states reported increases in Covid-19 cases last week, according to Reuters. Cases are spiking in some countries, particularly where vaccination rates are low.

"I'm concerned, and we should discuss it," Councilman Jeff Bragman said on Tuesday, referring to in-person meetings and his colleagues on the town board. He cited the Delta variant, concern for which has brought renewed lockdowns in several cities in Australia and in other countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

The Delta variant is a concern, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc agreed on Tuesday, "but, as we have through the entire pandemic, we will monitor the situation and take whatever steps necessary, when they're necessary, to ensure the public's health and safety. I don't think we have significant immediate concerns. That may change." Members of the board and the public alike will have the option to participate remotely, he said.

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, Councilman David Lys, and Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez did not reply to an email seeking comment on the resumption of in-person meetings.

Only five of the nine town trustees attended a regularly scheduled virtual meeting on Monday, but several expressed reservations about restarting in-person meetings in the Town Hall meeting room.

Part of the rationale for resuming traditional meetings, said Francis Bock, the trustees' clerk, is that "when you have in-person meetings, you tend to have more public contribution, engagement." There was just one caller to Monday's meeting, he said. "I know some board members would like to get started."

Rick Drew told Mr. Bock that "it's time for us to get back to in-person meetings . . . if everyone on the board is comfortable with it," but added that he would be flexible "if we want to go a little slower and wait a couple more weeks or a month. But I think in the near future we should try to get back to in-person meetings."

John Aldred agreed, but others were not as sanguine. "I'm frankly hesitant about it because of the variant that is coming, and it is coming," said Susan McGraw Keber. "Already, they're talking about it being in clusters and pockets where people have not typically been vaccinated." She spoke of her own asthma, "and I know some of us may have other issues" that could compromise immunity. "I'm happy to continue doing this" — meeting via video conference — "until I feel more comfortable, frankly and honestly."

Tim Garneau agreed. "I'm immune compromised as well," he said, also suggesting that meeting in person is premature.
"How many people would be admitted from the public?" Ms. McGraw Keber asked. "Would we still have social distancing in terms of the seating arrangement?" Mr. Bock said that he did not know. "I do know they're allowing the public to enter the building now without masks," he said. He said that he would probably wear a mask if members of the public attended meetings, "but I would attend in person."

Monday's announcement did not apply to the trustees, Mr. Van Scoyoc noted. "They do use town property for their meetings and are welcome to continue to do that whenever they're ready to resume," he said, "but that's up to them to decide."

Mr. Aldred suggested a hybrid format to meetings, with some attending in person and others remotely. "I think we can just set some strict standards for public attendance at meetings," he said, such as "tremendous distance" between the board and the public, and the latter spaced safely apart and required to wear masks. Can they set such a requirement? Ms. McGraw Keber wondered aloud.

With so many trustees not in attendance, it was decided to continue the discussion at the next meeting, on July 12. 

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