Facing at least another month, supers look to remote meeting options

Enterprise file photo — Noah Zweifel

At Westerlo’s March 17 regular town board meeting, the last in-person meeting in the Hilltowns where residents were allowed to physically attend, chairs were spaced six feet apart and few people were seen in the gallery. 

HILLTOWNS — On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced that social distancing measures across the country will resume until at least April 30, dashing the hopes of anyone who thought life would return to normal after the initial two-week period came to an end.

Added to this, for New Yorkers, is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “pause” — now until mid-April but perhaps longer — which prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.

So local governments are forced to look for ways to hold meetings remotely while preserving residents’ abilities to be heard.



Knox was the first in the Hilltowns to hold a remote meeting via conference call after Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis called for a last-minute special meeting on March 27 — at Highway Superintendent Matthew Schanz’s request, he said — so the board could discuss personnel in an executive session. 

“It went extremely well,” Lefkaditis told The Enterprise in an email discussing the remote set-up. “We utilized a third-party conference call service provider. The service provided us with a call-in number that was made public and available to anyone, including the public for listening purposes.”

Lefkaditis went on to explain that the public portion of the meeting was transcribed verbatim and will be made public at some point in the future, in accordance with the temporarily amended Open Meetings Law.

Cuomo signed an executive order on March 13 that waives the requirement that elected boards allow residents to attend meetings in person, instead requiring that meetings held remotely be reasonably accessible via telephone or livestream “provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed.” 

Typically, meetings are recorded but meeting minutes are only required to contain “a record or summary of all motions, proposals, resolutions and any other matter formally voted upon and the vote thereon,” according to Section 106 of the Open Meetings Law

The change occurred after each of the Hilltowns held at least one regular town board meeting in March. Knox, Rensselaerville, and Berne hold their town board meetings on the second designated weekday of each month, while the Westerlo town board holds its regular meeting on the third Tuesday of each month. Rensselaerville, the only Hilltown with two regularly scheduled town board meetings, holds its second meeting on the fourth Thursday of each month. 

Westerlo was the last to hold a meeting, on March 17, which was sparsely attended and had its chairs spaced six feet apart in keeping with guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, all meetings in all the Hilltowns are suspended or canceled with the exception of Knox’s next town board meeting on April 7.

“I haven’t decided whether or not we will be using the conference-call method for our April meeting,” Lefkaditis told The Enterprise. “We may opt to meet in person. If we do meet in person, the meeting will be closed to the public but will be available via streaming service.” 

Lefkaditis said that meeting in person has “no specific advantage other than it’s easier,” and that he’ll make his decision once he touches base with each of the board members. 

In Westerlo, Supervisor William Bichteman and the town board members are exploring options for a remote meeting before the next town board meeting, which would be on April 21.

“It’s just a matter of making a decision and buying the software,” Bichteman said, adding that the town has every intention of keeping residents in the loop as best it can during this time, and will try to prioritize time-sensitive agenda items. 

“Things march on here whether you want them to or not,” Bichteman said. “We still have bills to pay … Things like changing Grievance Day is something that has to be done.”

Grievance Day — when boards of assessment review are expected to listen to complaints from property owners over assessments — is scheduled each year for the fourth Tuesday in May. Because assessors are required to attend hearings, and because Westerlo’s assessor, Garth Slocum, is also an assessor in other towns, Westerlo can change its Grievance Day to any time between the fourth Tuesday in May and the second Tuesday in June.

When asked about the status of meetings, what method the town will use to hold remote meetings if necessary, and whether or not meetings would continue to be held in the old Foxenkill Grange Hall, which also serves as a gathering place for seniors, Supervisor Sean Lyons told the Enterprise that he is waiting for more information before he makes a decision.

“I am waiting on counsel to answer the very same questions for me,” Lyons told The Enterprise in an email. “Once I know how I will proceed, in the next day or two I will let you and the world know.” 

Rensselaerville’s supervisor, John Dolce, could not be reached for comment.



Guilderland’s supervisor, Peter Barber, said the town is setting up a system for meetings that goes beyond what the governor’s executive order calls for. Rather than just contemporaneously broadcasting meetings, Barber said, the town will allow residents to telephone in with comments.

“Our I.T. guy simulated this,” said Barber, referring to Jeff Gregory.

When Barber spoke to The Enterprise last Friday, the plan had been to use the phone-in system for the April 7 town board meeting, which was also to be applied to a hearing on an amendment to the town’s solar law.

However, since then, that town board meeting and hearing have been postponed until April 21. That date is after Cuomo’s current end-point for the “pause” in New York State, forbidding gatherings of more than 10 as well as shutting down non-essential businesses. However, those executive orders may well be extended.

The legal notices for the now-postponed April 7 meeting and hearing had explained: “Members of the public may listen and view the meeting live on Verizon channel 34 and Spectrum channel 1303, on the Town website, and may dial (518) 579-3721 to participate in a conference call.  Minutes of the meeting will be transcribed and posted on the Town’s website.”

One of the concerns in setting up meetings, Barber said on Friday, was staying under the governor’s order for no more than 10 people gathering. The Guilderland Planning Board, for example, has seven members as well as whoever would be coming before the board.

“Maybe only the planning board chair will be in the room,” said Barber. “We have to adhere to guidelines … You get to 10 pretty quickly.”

Barber thought the town might make do with just one camera since there would be no public present to film. “Then we don’t need that camera person,” he said.

The April calendar on the town’s website, as of Wednesday, listed as cancelled: The Conservation Advisory Council’s April 13 meeting, the Development Planning Committee’s April 15 meeting, and the Zoning Board of Appeals’ April 15 meeting.

In addition to the town board’s meeting on April 21, the calendar lists a planning board meeting on April 22, and a meeting of the Guilderland Industrial Agency meeting on April 27.

The town’s calendar also lists the Guilderland Household Hazardous Waste Day as still taking place on April 11 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The town’s transfer station will close at 11:30 a.m. on April 11.

On Thursday, April 2, the Guilderland School Board will hold a budget workshop to consider additional reductions to the proposed $103.5 million 2020-21 spending plan due to fiscal challenges facing the state with the coronavirus pandemic.

The workshop will be held via conference call and live-streamed over Youtube and available on Spectrum Cable Channel 1302/33 within the town of Guilderland. Community members are welcome to view the proceedings and will be able to submit questions and comments during the meeting through a Thoughtexchange.

A school board meeting, for budget adoption, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 7.


New Scotland

New Scotland moved its April 8 meeting to April 14 because of Passover, and will post instructions on the town website on how to access April 14 meeting.



Voorheesville will post instructions on the village website to view or call in for the April 6 reorganizational meeting.



Altamont will post instructions on the village website to view or call in for the April 6 reorganizational meeting.



The April 6 Voorheesville Board of Education meeting will take place as scheduled. Superintendent Frank Macri said it was his intention to have information about accessing the meeting remotely posted on the district’s website by Thursday evening. 

— Melissa Hale-Spencer wrote the section on Guilderland. Sean Mulkerrin wrote on New Scotland, Altamont, and Voorheesville.


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