Earlier this week amid the continued rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the wake of winter’s arrival and Thanksgiving travel, and as part of a broad plan to slow the community spread of the coronavirus, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. urged local governments, non-profits and other organizations to cease all in person public meetings.
Certainly, under the circumstances and given the availability of various virtual platforms, this measure, while inconvenient for many, should not represent a hardship to these organizations who can still effectively manage their responsibilities with full transparency.
What could be a hardship to local residents, however, is the closure to the public of city, town and village halls. We understand the need for such measures and do not imply that a better alternative exists, rather, our residents will still need municipal services and need mechanisms in which to not only communicate effectively with their public servants but ensure that they are being assisted appropriately.
We applaud the efforts of those municipalities that are making arrangements to interact with the public and are seeking to make such widely known in advance of the public closure.
Kudos to town of Floyd officials who have announced that they are available by appointment, with proper restrictions in place, to assist town residents. Likewise, the town brought attention to opportunities to contact officials by phone or via the town website or utilize a dropbox for payments or other services.
Additionally, we recognize the efforts of Lee Town Supervisor John Urtz and other town employees.
While the Lee Town Hall will close other than certain limited office functions from Dec. 21 until Jan. 12, the work of the town will go on with many functions scheduling set office hours to handle such functions as codes, zoning, planning, tax collection and assessment/STAR program paperwork.
We acknowledge Urtz’s guidance to town department heads specifying procedures relating to the shutdown and advising that “during this time, everyone must answer their emails, telephone messages and make appointments to handle town residents’ needs.”
It is accessibility and transparency such as this, as well as a receptiveness to seek creative alternatives, that demonstrate good government at work.
While there are certainly similar examples in other local towns and villages, we hope that those municipal governments which haven’t already made such arrangements will follow these effective — and necessary — examples.
Likewise, all civic bodies should, if they have not already, codify and publicize their procedures in advance of future meetings, particularly how and where the public can access meetings or services and what are the rules governing comment.
In particular, it is important for residents to understand any rules or requirements to register in advance to participate in meetings and what constraints or time limits exist for comments.