By Daniel Katzive
Community Board 7 met for an abbreviated “business only” final meeting on Tuesday, before breaking for the summer. While the agenda was lighter than usual, the meeting did have some special significance: this was the first live in-person meeting for the full board since March 2020.
Under the State’s Open Meetings Law, public bodies like community boards are required to provide the public with notice of and access to all meetings and to have a physical quorum to conduct business. The law was suspended by executive order during the pandemic emergency, but with various extensions now having expired, the law requires a resumption of in-person gatherings.
The return to in-person meetings does not mean that members and the public should delete their Zoom apps just yet, however. New laws passed in 2022 permit hybrid public hearings. According to a June 2022 article in City Land, a publication of New York Law School, the law requires a quorum of members to be physically present and members can only participate and vote in the meeting remotely in certain exigent circumstances (illness, disability, caregiving, etc.). Members of the public, though, can continue to watch and participate in meetings remotely.
The meeting this week was held at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on West 86th Street and broadcast via Zoom, with only a few board members joining remotely. Board members seemed energized to be back in the same room for the discussions. Board Chair Beverly Donohue, speaking for herself and not the whole board, told WSR via email, “Personally, I found the atmosphere in the room full of positive feeling at being together after a long separation.”
Board Co-Secretary Barbara Adler, also speaking for herself and responding to questions from WSR via email, said that “there is no question that being there all in person enables camaraderie and collegiality, and from that aspect it can’t be beat.”
Other board members contacted by WSR also expressed relief at not having to discuss complicated and contentious matters on Zoom. “Zoom is where collegiality comes to die!” wrote Jay Adolf. Ken Coughlin told us, “In person, the exchanges are much livelier and more forgiving of difference. People said things on Zoom that I doubt they would have said to another person’s face, or said things in a way that was needlessly charged, and I’m sure I was as guilty of that as anyone.” Again, both were expressing their own views, not those of the board as a whole.
For members of the public (and journalists) attending by Zoom, though, there were some disadvantages. Identifying who was speaking was much more difficult than in the Zoom-only days, when each speaker appeared in a box with their name. It was also difficult to keep track of vote totals and results that may have been obvious to attendees in the room, but were not read out clearly over the Zoom link. On a more technical level, there were periods of the meeting where the remote audio cut out entirely.
Adler acknowledged that there were some technical challenges but said, “we will work out all the kinks, I am certain.” Donohue also promised the board will “work to improve our tech.” She said the board had very little notice of the City Hall decision to allow the suspension of the Open Meetings Law to expire.
Speaking at the last remote-only Community Board 7 meeting on June 6, District Manager Max Vandervliet anticipated the possible need to resume in person meetings on June 20. “We are prepared as well as we can be,” he said, but also noted that the limited business-only agenda for the June 20 meeting meant the timing was good to make the shift. “It’s a good opportunity to test the waters,” he said.
The meeting on June 20 was the last session for the full board until September 5.