County to resume virtual meetings

The Columbia County Office Building at 401 State St. in Hudson. Natasha Vaughn-Holdridge/Columbia-Greene Media

HUDSON — The Columbia County Board of Supervisors is returning to virtual meetings this week.

The board is returning to online meetings after they had been in-person since mid-June.

“We had done a survey of all the supervisors previous to the executive order being lifted and the majority of the supervisors wanted to continue doing virtual meetings,” Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said.

Board of Supervisors meetings can be viewed live on the YouTube channel and links to meetings can be found under the upcoming meeting information page.

“Meetings are obviously open to the public, anyone can view them on YouTube,” Murell said. “We also make the transcripts of the meetings available from YouTube. And if anybody has any questions regarding an issue that’s brought up in a meeting they can email us and we will answer those questions.”

The Board of Supervisors had been planning to switch from holding its committee meetings in the smaller committee room to the larger chamber room so people could social distance more, Murell said.

“We ended up skipping that step for the most part because they (the state) did allow us to again have virtual meetings,” Murell said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation last Thursday extending virtual access to public meetings under the state’s Open Meeting Law, which allows people to virtually participate in local government meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation had first been implemented earlier in the pandemic. Under the state of emergency, it allowed for state and local government meetings normally held in person to instead be held remotely as long as the public had the ability to view or listen to meetings and as long as the meeting is recorded and later transcribed.

On June 25, 2021, the State Disaster Emergency ended, removing the provision suspending the law. Hochul’s announcement allows for meetings to once again be held remotely.

The virtual meetings for the Columbia County Board of Supervisors are streamed live through their Youtube channel. Murell said the virtual meetings are well-attended by not only committee members but additional supervisors as well.

“We have noticed a better attendance among supervisors,” Murell said. “Part of that is each committee pretty much has nine members. What happens when we’re virtual is that you get the members of the committee plus you get some other supervisors who listen in and watch the meetings, where if they would have had to drive from a location like New Lebanon or Ancram they may not go to the meeting if they had to be there in-person, where they can easily be there virtually.”

The length of time the Columbia County Board of Supervisors will be holding its meetings online is not determined, Murell said the governor’s latest order allowed virtual meetings to run as long as Jan. 15, 2022.

“I’m not sure it will go that long but a lot of it depends on what COVID is doing,” Murell said. “In the county buildings now we’re wearing masks.”

Local governments once again having the ability to hold public meetings remotely comes after a growing number of new COVID-19 cases throughout the state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 tracker reports 59 of the 62 counties in the state are currently ranked at a high level for community transmission.

The other three counties in the state are considered to be substantial risk for community transmission, those three counties are Columbia, Wyoming and Yates.

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