December 2, 2021

State legislation would require recordings of meetings

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Cortland County Deputy Clerk of the Legislature Savannah Hempstead toggles with the camera in the county Legislature hambers to ensure it’s working properly. There is a proposed law at the state level thatr wold require municipalities to live stream and then post video recordings of all open meetings and public hearings.

Savannah Hempstead pulled up a chair Thursday, looked at the screen picturing the Cortland County Legislature and began moving the camera in the chambers around.

Hempstead, the deputy clerk of the Legislature, was making sure the camera equipment worked, just as she made sure the microphones were ready, too.

If passed, a new law would require municipalities in New York to livestream and then post a recording of their meetings on their website within five business days and keep them posted for no less than five years.

“We are fortunately in a good spot on this one for a change and are well ahead of the curve,” Eric Mulvihill, the clerk of the Legislature, said Tuesday during a Personnel Committee meeting.

The county added audio and video equipment to the Legislature Chambers in 2014 at a cost of about $10,000, Mulvihill said in an email Wednesday.

Over the last few years the Legislature also had audio and video equipment installed in two other conference rooms, should there be overflow attendance during meetings.

“We have a contract with a third party that hosts our streaming services which ties directly to our agendas and minutes this allows our documents to be viewed simultaneously with the audio/video broadcasts,” Mulvihill said in the email. “It also provides for the cloud based storage of the recordings so that they are available indefinitely which far away exceeds the proposed five year requirement in the bill.”

The city of Cortland and village of Homer are also both known for recording their meetings so people can view them later, but other towns like Preble are also streaming their meetings online already and then archiving them using YouTube.

Open government supporters are excited to see the law, hoping it is enacted.

“One of the positive things to occur during the pandemic is the live streaming and posting of local government meetings,” said Paul Wolf, the president of the New York Coalition For Open Government.

In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo put in place an executive order that said public bodies did not need to have in-person meetings but did need to ensure the public had access to virtual meetings and that such meetings were recorded and later transcribed.

“The number of people watching video meetings shows how interested the public is in what is occurring at the local level,” Wolf said. “In Buffalo, 18,000 people recently viewed a Buffalo Common Council meeting, in Ogdensburg, NY (Population 10,000), 1,100 people registered to watch a city council meeting. There have been large numbers of people watching local government meetings across New York State.”

He also said that the law would allow those who cannot attend meetings in person due to working during the day or other obligations a chance to watch the video later.

“Communities small and large have the ability to live stream and post recordings of meetings online,” Wolf said.