I attempted to listen to the December 15, 2020, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors meeting. It was an exercise in frustration. Imagine sitting in the second row of a Rolling Stones concert and trying to listen in to what a group of people in the row in front of you were saying. Regrettably, it lacked the benefit of hearing and watching Mick Jagger.
In order to address the danger of contagion, the Governor issued an executive order that waved the requirement under the Open Meetings Law that the public be allowed to attend meetings of elected officials. The order stipulated that the public could be restricted from attending, but it required that the public be able to listen in on the meeting and that a transcript be posted.
Unlike Saratoga Springs city government which provides a live stream video of their meetings, the Board of Supervisors’ meetings are neither live streamed nor do they post videos subsequent of their meetings.
This is consistent with their hostility to public scrutiny. One of the findings of the independent investigation into the COVID pay scandal was that the Supervisors had repeatedly violated the Open Meetings Law.
The lack of video also reflects the failure of the county to develop modern information technology capabilities. Yet another example of the lack of effective management and indifference to the public.
To meet the Governor’s requirements the Supervisors set up a system where people could call a special telephone number to listen to the meetings.
There were two problems with this set up. First of all, apparently at least some of the participants were using Zoom with mixed results. While a few speakers were clear, many were muffled or garbled. At times some of the participants spoke over each other which made it impossible to make out what they were saying.
Worse, speakers rarely identified themselves so one rarely knew who was talking.
This may have technically meet the requirements of the Open Meetings Law during COVID, but it most assuredly did not meet the spirit of the law.
I am not sure who is responsible for the transcript. Given that these meetings can go on for hours, it is a yeoman’s task to write all of this down. I assume it is the responsibility of the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. If it is she, to her credit she does a very good job but there is a long delay before the minutes are posted. I am writing this on December 27th and the minutes of the December 15th meeting are still not up.
I complained to our Supervisors and received the following responses:
Our meeting went very late last night and sorry for not responding yesterday. Also apologies for the bad audio at the County. We are planning on investing a large sum of money next year to make our Board Meeting room state-of-the art with a new audio system that can be integrated into a on-line meeting system, as well as cameras in the board room and committee room that can live-stream our meetings online. It should have been done years ago. Until that gets done, it will be difficult.Supervisor Matthew Veitch, email December 16, 2020
I’m personally thrilled that we were able to include funding for LONG needed tech updates, as well as increase public information funding and placing it under the Board itself to support being more responsive and improving communication with the public – who should always be the priority.Tara Gaston email December 16, 2020