By Gwendolyn Craig
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Adirondack Park Agency like so many other governmental organizations has dealt with its share of virtual, technological conundrums. Thursday’s meeting was a demonstration of that, leading board members to call for changes in format and record keeping.
Mid-way through the agency’s four-hour meeting, informational slides on a general permit update stopped showing on the virtual platform.
Agency staff then emailed documents to board members. Behind the scenes, APA staff tried to post slides on the agency’s website so the public could see. But APA Executive Director Terry Martino said server issues in Albany after a Wednesday night storm was preventing the information from getting posted.
“Technology, like Mother Nature, is a bit unpredictable,” said Brad Austin, a representative on the APA of the state’s Department of Economic Development.
The slide failures continued through an hour-long explanation on APA policies involving docks, boathouses and shoreline setbacks. The presentations carried on with the public listening to references of pages and slides invisible to them.
Some board members struggled to open and review the slides while keeping the virtual meeting visible on their computer screens.
Chad Dawson, an APA board member, wrapped up Thursday’s meeting by asking staff to send board members meeting materials three days prior.
Martino said that timeline “could not be easily fulfilled.”
“If it means staff have to back up how they plan this more days in advance, so be it,” Dawson said. “You rush through massive quantities of material, some of which today we got and had to download, and we’re on a limited access system. … It’s unacceptable. We’ve got to have this stuff organized in advance. These are important decisions we’re making.”
Art Lussi echoed Dawson’s sentiments.
“It’s not working,” Lussi, a board member, said. “It’s just too hard to try to juggle the presentation that’s on our screen with the material that you’re actually reviewing. If we’re going to keep working remotely, we need materials better than we’re getting them.”
Zoe Smith, also a board member, requested staff separate APA projects into folders rather than just by committee. Currently, the public can see APA documents online separated out in folders by committee, but most of the folders within the committee folder are labeled with a permit application number.
Andrea Hogan, a board member, said she was on her 30th hour of virtual meetings this week. She offered to help Martino with a solution.
The APA may begin holding meetings in person, at least for board members, however. Martino said she is working on getting board members laptops, which they could bring to the APA offices in Ray Brook. The meeting would still be virtual. The APA’s current camera system setup does not allow for all board members to be visible in the same room under the new social distancing guidelines, Martino said.
November’s meeting could involve board members sitting spaced apart in the Ray Brook office, still conducting business through laptops.
“It’s something we’re obviously looking into,” Martino said. “It’s obviously emerging and today, again, was representative of what happens when the state goes down with technology.”