Sept. 7, 2021 By Allie Griffin
Community boards can continue to hold their meetings online—at least until January.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law last week that allows boards to hold public meetings and hearings virtually in lieu of the ongoing pandemic.
The legislation creates an exception to the state’s Open Meetings Law, which requires government entities—including community boards—to hold meetings in person so the public can attend.
Community boards and government entities were permitted to hold meetings online between March 2020 and June 25, 2021 during the COVID-19 state of emergency that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared.
However, when the state of emergency was lifted on June 25, in-person meetings were once again required. Most boards, however, did not hold meetings in July and August due to the summer break. Board meetings are resuming once again this month.
Hochul’s signature extends the virtual meeting exception from now through Jan. 15, 2022. It comes after pushback from several Queens community boards and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
Many Queens community board leaders were concerned about returning to in-person meetings with the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious delta variant.
Queens Community Board 6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, pushed back on the resumption of in-person meetings last month.
Chair Alexa Weitzman penned a letter to elected officials last month stating that the board would continue to hold its meetings remotely despite the requirement due to concerns over the delta variant.
“The executive order might have ended, but the pandemic is not over,” Weitzman told the Queens Post at the time.
She sent the letter after two fully-vaccinated people who attended an in-person Manhattan community board meeting tested positive for COVID-19.
“To require Community Boards to meet in person at this juncture is extremely problematic and antithetical to the accessibility standards Queens Community Board 6 strives for,” Weitzman wrote.
Hochul echoed Weitzman’s sentiment that the pandemic has not ended. She said she heard from officials across the state who are concerned about constituents’ inability to attend public meetings from within their homes.
“This commonsense legislation extends a privilege that not only helps New Yorkers participate safely in the political process, but also increases New Yorkers’ access to their government by allowing for more options to view public meetings,” Hochul said in a statement.
She added that it will help bolster transparency in governing.
Weitzman and Queens Community Board 6 said they are thrilled that the law was amended to allow virtual meetings in a statement on Twitter.
“Queens CB6 is thrilled that NYS’s Open Meeting Law was amended to allow for CBs to continue meeting remotely through January 2022,” Community Board 6 wrote. “Thank you to our local elected officials who supported & pushed for this, which keeps our members, staff & community safe.”