Committee on Open Government says Ogdensburg likely made a 'reasonable effort' to accommodate public as required by law
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country Ths Week
OGDENBSURG – An opinion from the state Committee on Open Government says the city “likely” made a “reasonable effort” to “accommodate members of the public who wish to attend remotely.”
A city council meeting Monday failed to take place after the number of people attempting to participate online exceeded the 1,000 maximum limit for the web-based meeting software and City Clerk Cathy Jock said proceeding would be a violation of open meetings law.The state opinion was requested by Mayor Jeffrey “Mike” Skelly after a meeting set for Monday was postponed due to the number of people wishing to attend exceeding what the city could accommodate.
Skelly at the meeting said that he was in favor of the city council spending money to expand the application’s capacity.
On Tuesday, Skelly issued an email to the Committee on Open Government, which was forwarded to North Country This Week by Deputy Mayor John Rishe.
Kirstin O’Neil, assistant director of the Committee on Open Government, said that state law requires public bodies to “make or cause to be made all reasonable efforts to ensure that meetings are held in an appropriate facility which can adequately accommodate members of the public who wish to attend such meetings.”
However, due to the current circumstances, the governor’s executive orders allow some aspects of that law to be exempted, as is often the case with emergency declarations.
“Of course, under current circumstances and consistent with the Governor’s executive orders, public bodies, such as the City Council, are (not) holding meetings in “facilities,” but instead are holding them remotely. In my opinion, if City Council meetings do not normally attract crowds of close to 1,000 or more, then offering a remote access program that can accommodate 1,000 participants would likely be considered a “reasonable effort” to “accommodate members of the public who wish to attend” remotely,” O’Neil said in an emailed response to a request from Mayor Michael Skelly.
O’Neil said the council could further meet the governor’s orders by live streaming the meetings.
“As long as the public has the ability to listen or listen and view the meeting while it is occurring, the City Council will have complied with the “remote access” portion of the Governor’s executive order. In addition, we would recommend that the city post the recording of the meeting to its website as quickly as possible after the meeting has ended,” she said.
Although most municipalities allow for public comment at meeting, state law does not require it.
However, the Ogdensburg City Charter does provide citizens with the ability to speak at meetings, separate from state law.
An excerpt from the city charter related to public comment follows:
• Addressing the Council. Any person desiring to address the Council prior to Council Action Items, by oral communication shall notify the City Clerk prior to the Council Meeting of their desire to speak in order that their name may be placed on a list and they will be recognized by the presiding officer without further action. Any person desiring to address the Council after New Business Items by oral communication shall first secure the permission of the presiding officer.
• Manner of addressing the Council - time limit. Each person addressing the Council shall stand, approach the microphone, give his/her name and address in an audible tone of voice for the record. Each person addressing the Council, prior to Council Action Items, shall limit their address to five minutes unless further time is granted by the Chair or requested of the Chair by a member of Council. Each person addressing the Council, after New Business Items, shall limit their address to two minutes unless further time is granted by the Chair or requested of the Chair by a member of Council. All remarks shall be addressed to the Council as a body, and not to any member thereof. No person other than members of the Council and the person having the floor shall be permitted to enter into any discussion, either directly or through the members of the Council. No questions shall be asked the Councilors, except through the Chair.
• Personal and slanderous remarks. Any person making personal, impertinent or Slanderous remarks, or who shall become boisterous, while addressing the Council may be requested to leave the meeting and may be forthwith, by the presiding officer, barred from further audience before the Council.
• Reading of protests. Interested persons, or their authorized representatives, may address the Council for the reading of protests, petitions or communications relating to an matter over which the Council has control when the item is under consideration by the Council, if a majority of the Council present agrees to let them be heard. Such readings shall be governed by the rules set forth within rule herein.
• Written communication. Interested parties, or their authorized representatives, may address the Council by written communication in regard to any matter concerning the City's business or over which the Council has control at any time by direct mail or by addressing the City Clerk, and copies will be distributed to the Council members.
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