By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency’s virtual board meeting today will allow for live, public comment for the first time in about 18 months of remote meetings. The change coincides with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s declarations for more government transparency, and came after some public criticism about the APA’s plan for a one-way virtual meeting.
When the agency board turned remote at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, it did not include an opportunity for members of the public to speak via the video conferencing platform or via telephone. Instead, the agency has collected public comments through the email address [email protected].
This week the APA received pushback from the environmental nonprofit organization Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. Managing Partner David Gibson, submitted a letter to APA staff reminding them of the agency’s comment policy providing “approximately 10 minutes for public comment at or near the beginning of each open meeting of the Agency.”
Hochul’s administration, too, issued a memo to government agencies last month calling for reviews and improvements to agencies’ transparency policies.
In a piece published on the Adirondack Almanack, Gibson said “That order obviously includes the Adirondack Park Agency. Given that order, APA should be allowing the public to sign up and speak directly to the Adirondack Park Agency’s decision-makers during their regularly scheduled webcast meetings.”
Gibson said this morning he wrote agency staff “recognizing them for abiding by their policy.” He was also appreciative the APA abided Adirondack Wild’s request.
The public was able to address the board at the agency’s July meeting, which was held in person. The agency cancelled its meetings in August and September and switched back to remote meetings for October due to increasing concerns about the coronavirus, public information officer Keith McKeever said.
Hours before the APA board’s October meeting, McKeever told the Adirondack Explorer the agenda had been updated with information on how to comment live. Members of the public who wish to speak should email the phone number they are using to call in to the WebEx platform and their names to [email protected], according to the agenda.
“The Agency encourages public comment that will assist us in improving our practices, procedures and our responsibility to the public,” the agenda reads. “However, to promote fundamental fairness, and in consideration of the substantial time available for written comment, the practice of the Agency is to exclude public comment on matters pending decision until the conclusion of Agency business. This includes: (1) any matter which is before the Agency for action at this meeting; (2) any enforcement case which is before the Agency; (3) any matter for which an adjudicatory public hearing has been convened. Conduct of the meeting is always at the discretion of the Chair or Committee Chair.”
The meeting started at 12:30 p.m. Public comment is listed on the agenda toward the beginning of the meeting and toward the end. To access the meeting go to tinyurl.com/AgencyMeetingOct2021Thu or call 1-518-549-0500 and type in the access code, 2342 709 4552.