Niskayuna residents question move to all virtual meetings

Exterior of the Niskayuna Town Hall building at Niskayuna Circle.

Exterior of the Niskayuna Town Hall building at Niskayuna Circle.

Some Niskayuna residents are frustrated and angry that the town of Niskayuna is moving to all-virtual meetings. 

“I think it’s the wrong decision,” resident Steve Benton told The Daily Gazette Tuesday. 

On Sunday Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed announced the town would go all-virtual with all Town Board, committee and task force meetings. 

The move followed the announcement by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sept. 2 that she has signed legislation enabling municipalities to hold virtual meetings until Jan. 15 as long as the public could attend the virtual meeting or livestream it and the meeting was recorded and later transcribed. 

Syed said the move was due to the county’s ongoing high level of COVID transmission.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday there are 213 active COVID cases in the county. There are 502 people in isolation or quarantine and 31 people hospitalized. 

Syed said she also took the delta variant into account when looking at all the data, noting the breakthrough cases of positive testing among individuals who have been vaccinated. Some town employees have had to quarantine because family members who were vaccinated are now testing positive, she said.

“I’m hoping it’s only temporary,” Syed said about the change to virtual meetings. 

However, several residents are skeptical that the decision was actually made because of COVID.  

Benton said while he understands concerns surrounding COVID many other activities are still taking place, including other town meetings. 

“I don’t see why we would be the only municipality to do this,” he said. 

Most towns in the county are either conducting in-person meetings or using a hybrid model for their meetings. The county and city of Schenectady are both doing hybrid models where seating is available but people can livestream the meeting as well. 

Benton and resident Linda Rizzo told The Gazette the timing of the move to all virtual meetings is too coincidental in light of the fact that multiple residents expressed dissatisfaction at an Aug. 24 Town Board meeting with the way the town has been operating lately. 

“Does it make any sense this is about COVID,” Rizzo said, noting the town had been conducting hybrid meetings with social distancing and mask-wearing measures in place for those attending in person. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

One of the biggest issues brought up was transparency. By moving to virtual meetings residents feel there may be less transparency. 

“The citizens of Niskayuna should thank the Town Board for removing any questions as to the content of their collective character,” said resident Peter Struzzi. 

Syed said she would have the same concerns, but that she is committed to promoting transparency. 

She said that when the town was holding virtual meetings at the beginning of the pandemic she actually saw more participation and heard from more residents that they were attending. 

She said people can either send in public comments ahead of time or register to speak at the public hearing. People can register by emailing Syed’s confidential secretary Brian Backus at [email protected] or system administrator Seth Goldstein at [email protected]

Syed also said the town will embed a link in the calendar of meetings that people can click on to register.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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