Reconsider lawmakers’ videoconferencing

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Reconsider lawmakers’ videoconferencing

Story By: STAFF WRITER
8/22/2019


Videoconferencing has taken its place in our high-tech society. It’s a system that allows individuals to conduct business and even earn a degree from home – or just about anywhere else. However, when the subject came up recently in the Suffolk County Legislature, it drew mixed reactions that indicate more research is needed before moving forward with this plan. That’s good news. 

Earlier this week, the Legislature’s presiding officer, DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), had arranged a special legislative hearing and public meeting, which he later canceled, to address this issue. The meeting was prompted by a request from Legis. Susan Berland (D-Huntington) to Skype at committee meetings this month since she’s on vacation in Florida. New York does have an Open Meetings law on the books that permits public access to the legislative process, and in some cases even allows representatives to cast their vote via Skype, but that rule varies from municipality to municipality. Suffolk County has always required their representatives to be present in order to vote. It makes sense.

However, if that practice ever changes, here’s something to consider: should one representative be allowed to Skype, then perhaps another – or several others - might ask to do the same for a variety of reasons. So, the question is: can a legislative body debate the serious issues that are facing our county, hear the concerns of citizens at the public hearings, or try to come to a consensus with their colleagues if several of the board members’ seats are filled with a laptop computer? Maybe, but it still raises serious doubt.

Look, it’s understood that legislators are going to miss meetings along with the opportunity to vote from time to time due to unforeseen circumstances. But vacations, business trips and other planned situations that require them to be away should fit into the schedule of the governing body. We’re not talking about volunteers here. These individuals were elected by a constituency to represent them, which primarily involves showing up to cast a vote.  And they are well paid for it. 

Suffolk should reconsider videoconferencing at least until the voting public can have their say about it, too. It’s something that will no doubt be debated in the coming months.