Will transparency mean we won’t see what’s coming?

CHATHAM—At their first regular meeting of 2022, the Town Board postponed a discussion on the future status of one board member due to a new state law.

On January 20, the board met online for the monthly meeting. It was the first regular meeting for newly-elected board members Rick Werwaiss and Destiny Hallenbeck, who were sworn in earlier this month. During the board discussion, Mr. Werwaiss asked about current board member Abi Mesick’s statements last year about resigning from the board. Last fall, Ms. Mesick, who was elected in 2019 and took office in January of 2020, reported that she was considering resigning from the Town Board and moving out of the state for health reasons. At that time the board passed a motion to begin the search for her replacement. Mr. Werwaiss pointed out that there was no follow up to this announcement in meeting minutes from last year.

Supervisor Donal Collins said that Ms. Mesick could comment on that issue but he and Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea pointed to a new state law recently passed about what boards can discuss at meetings without giving proper notice.

Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation “boosting transparency in state and local government” in October 2021, according to a press release from the governor’s office. The new law requires that documents to be discussed at open meetings must be made available on request or posted on the government body’s website at least 24 hours prior to meeting.

“There’s no excuse for keeping New Yorkers in the dark on the actions governments take to help their constituents, and we’ve been committed to greater transparency since day one,” Governor Hochul said in the release. “New Yorkers should be informed about the work the government does for them every day, but we have to make it easier for them to get that information.”

The release goes on to say that the state Open Meetings Law, which governs public access to governmental meetings, “is intended to empower the public through the accessibility of meetings of public bodies. The law requires them to make available to the public relevant documents, such as any proposed rule, regulation, or resolution. However, the current law only requires documents to be made available prior to meetings ‘as determined by the agency or department.’ This standard has resulted in some government bodies failing to make materials available in advance of meetings, reducing transparency.”

The law reads that “records available to the public… as well as any proposed resolution, law, rule, regulation, policy or any amendment thereto, that is scheduled to be the subject of discussion by a public body during an open meeting shall be made available, upon request therefor, to the extent practicable [as determined by the agency or the department,] at least 24 hours prior to [or at] the meeting during which the records will be discussed.” And there is a state requirement that if the municipality “maintains a regularly and routinely updated website and utilizes a high speed internet connection, such records shall be posted on the website to the extent practicable at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.”

The supervisor said that the discussion of Councilwoman Mesick’s board seat would be put on a future agenda.

Supervisor Collins also noted a part of the meeting agenda that says the board shall “conduct any other business that comes before the Town Board.” He moved past this section to public comment.

At the end of the meeting Ms. Mesick said she looked forward to working with the board “over the next two years” and getting a lot done.

‘We’ve been committed to greater transparency since day one.’

Governor Kathy Hochul

State of New York

Also at the meeting:

• The board discussed the construction at the Albany Turnpike Bridge in East Chatham. Supervisor Collins said, “Just about all the construction is complete.” He did say the traffic lights have been installed and “hopefully we’ll see lights there soon.” There are currently temporary road markings so he asked residents to use caution on the one-way motor vehicle bridge that spans the railroad tracks off of state Route 295

• The board appointed Tim Mackerer and Jody Nesbitt to the town’s Park and Recreation Committee

• The board also authorized Mr. Rappleyea to draft an inter-municipal agreement for a county Emergency 911 tower to be built at the Town Highway Garage (on Route 13). Mr. Rappleyea said the county would build the tower and lease it from the town. The town would own the tower. He also discussed whether to exempt the project from the town’s zoning, which he said would save time and money. But he also said the board could discuss that process at a future meeting. The 911 tower would be in an area of the town that is zoned for cell towers.

•The results of the Comprehensive Plan Community Survey are now available on the town’s website. An email from the town said that a committee is working on scheduling another public meeting in the next couple of weeks with the Comprehensive Plan consultant Michael Allen. “He will lead a discussion of the survey results with you as well as talk about the next steps of the Comprehensive Plan Update….Please keep an eye on the Town Website calendar. We will also post meeting information on Facebook, Instagram and in an email blast.”

The next board meeting will be February 17 at 6:30 p.m. The board also will have a workshop meeting February 3 at 6:30 p.m. Information about attending meetings and agendas are posted on the town’s website, www.chathamnewyork.us

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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