SCHENECTADY – It’s unclear when City Hall will reopen for walk-in business without an appointment and in-person City Council meetings.
As city officials continue to mull the former, the council has the ability to call for in-person meetings, provided it gives the city appropriate notice to prepare for yielding meeting access, Mayor Gary McCarthy said Tuesday.
“It’s their discretion,” McCarthy said, before adding: “They didn’t want to do it and so we haven’t done it.”
Council President John Mootooveren indicated he was waiting for guidance on when to resume in-person meetings from the mayor.
Mootooveren said he deferred to the mayor and day-to-day management of the city.
“We’re just a legislative body,” Mootooveren said. “We rely on them to give us the OK to when they can open back.”
Told that McCarthy said that was actually the council’s call, Mootooveren provided The Daily Gazette an excerpt of an email he said he had received on Sept. 28 from the mayor’s director of operations. It stated:
“It is the unanimous recommendation of the public safety command staff at both the Fire Department and Police Department that public meetings remain virtual, consistent with” the governor’s executive order authorizing public bodies to conduct meetings remotely.
“The council hasn’t received any updated directives,” Mootooveren said.
The other four council members couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Meantime, surrounding communities continue to open town halls for walk-in business and public meetings.
In Niskayuna, May 11 is the town’s first in-person board meeting, and beginning May 17, members of the public won’t need an appointment for services in Niskayuna Town Hall.
Glenville Town Hall has been fully open since March, but it has not opened to in-person board meetings, excerpt for when it allowed some people to attend a recent discussion about the new marijuana law, Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said.
The governor’s executive order in March 2020 allows for public bodies to convene and take actions without permitting in-person access, and for meetings to be held remotely by conference call or similar service, provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to the proceedings and that the meetings are recorded and later transcribed.
Schenectady City Hall reopened to the public for appointments only on June 15, with residents encouraged to access city services online or by phone when possible.
“To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t created much inconvenience” with appointment-only availability for city services, McCarthy said. “We still get a little bit, with people paying the property taxes, when things are backed up. But we put the dropbox outside.
“We’re reviewing the guidance from the state, and haven’t talked specifically yet to the members of the City Council, but we’re reviewing it, and we’ll move back at some point,” McCarthy said.
“I can’t give you a definite date of our normal full and open platform, but it will be within a reasonable period of time.”
McCarthy said he has heard feedback from people who say they like the earlier meeting times since the pandemic began. The council has been meeting at 5:30 p.m. instead of 7.
Also, digital platforms of broadcasts on YouTube and WebEx make it easier to provide all members of the public with meeting documents.
“Sometimes people didn’t always have a full set of copies of everything that’s there,” during in-person meetings before the pandemic, the mayor said.
On the other hand, some people have run into difficulty accessing meetings and using passwords and codes for participation, McCarthy said.
“Some elements of it, people like, and some, it’s not quite as warm and fuzzy as people would like,” McCarthy said of meetings during the pandemic.
McCarthy said he too has questions about what the “new normal” would look like concerning meetings.
Mootooveren said he would be open to a discussion with the council about allowing people to participate in meetings in a hybrid virtual/in-person platform after City Hall reopens in full.
“We have not discussed that, at any level, in terms of doing it hybrid,” he said. “That is something I will have to discuss with council members, of the way forward.
“But once City Hall is open and we’re able to do in-person meetings, I think that we will be there, back in person, but maybe the audience will be limited. I am not sure. I will have to get advice from the mayor and fire chief on the way forward on that because they are heading that committee.
“Once that committee determines that we can be back in person, we will adhere to all the necessary CDC (Centers for Disease Control) protocols and we will conduct a meeting in person. We’ll continue to do online meetings until that OK is given to us,” Mootooveren said.