Community Board 2 returned from summer break on Thursday, Sept. 7, at Sunnyside Community Services to discuss New York state’s Open Meetings Law with Allan Swisher, the general counsel and a senior policy advisor for the office of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
The law, which applies to all public bodies, makes it mandatory for community boards to meet in person. This requirement, however, ultimately fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed an executive order suspending particular provisions of the law as it related to in-person attendance.
“That was the status quo for about two years,” Swisher said. “The reason why public bodies, including community boards, are now back in person is because of the Open Meetings Law and reverting back to the status quo that existed before COVID hit.”
According to Swisher, the New York state Legislature amended the Open Meetings Law to include a provision allowing public bodies to meet “fully remotely” if an emergency order that prevented people from gathering in public were to come about. Until then, both Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams had emergency orders that related to COVID-19 in effect.
“That was the basis by which public bodies, like CB 2, were permitted to meet remotely,” Swisher explained. “That emergency order expired in July, which is why we’re in person now here today.”
Despite the return to in-person meetings, Swisher explained further to CB 2 that while meeting fully remotely is reserved for emergency orders, remote participation in meetings is still possible under “very specific, limited circumstances” with another provision that was added in 2022.
CB 2, along with any other community board, would have to pass a resolution that allows its members to participate remotely under “extraordinary circumstances,” which can include disability, illness, caregiver responsibilities, a tragedy, or something specific that “would prevent people from getting to a meeting.”