Zoom Toward Disaster - 27 East


Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1871425

Zoom Toward Disaster

Count on ham-fisted Fred Thiele to carve into legislative stone what should be a free and fluid decision-making situation.

On the heels of his signing on to include seasonal rentals into legislation meant to protect beleaguered New York City tenants, which he had to double back to correct, he recently put forth a bill (which the novice governor of New York has signed into law) to extend the burdensome remote Zoom meetings “for the remainder of the COVID-19 disaster” [“Governor Hochul Signs Open Meetings Law Sponsored By Thiele,” 27east.com, January 19], with an eye toward extending the quagmire caused by this emergency into infinity by “permanently amending the Open Meetings Law to allow it to catch up with new technology.”

Even rendering audible the garbled mush one strains to hear at town and village meetings would be a quantum leap in technology.

While citing “issues to be worked out,” he reiterates the dubious, totally unsubstantiated claim that “thanks to the use of video conferencing, public participation in meetings has increased over the last two years” — when, in fact, this burdensome, nerve-wracking format has effectively gutted public participation.

Ignoring that segment of the community that is not computer-equipped or savvy, he wants to provide for those who “in the past have been perhaps unfairly shut out — people with disabilities … and parents with young children who cannot access child care,” etc. etc. He might be more believable if, at any time, he had addressed the routine push of applications and controversial resolutions over the holidays, or late in August, and the daytime meetings that exclude working people.

The question of elected officials and board members officiating from their sofas, safe from the inquisitiveness and ire of the public, he admits, is “thornier,” especially as regards “transparency.” But more than transparency is at stake as a court decision, which just came down, in the first of the lawsuits challenging the Zoom meeting determined that video recordings do not a formal decision make.

More dangerous, and off-putting to the public, especially in times of disaster or emergency, is that the crafty politician can ram through reviews and decisions that favor special interests. One only need to look at the Jay Schneiderman sluicing. It is an unfortunate law that every disaster benefits some extraordinarily while whittling away at hard-won freedoms. One only need to look at Cheney and his Halliburton, or Prince and his Blackwater, for a start.

Thiele’s perception of a “silver lining of the pandemic” is his inspiration for permanent Zoom. We learn that “the process [began] with several public hearings on [this] matter in the fall.” Raise your hand if you knew about this, were encouraged to listen in, or participated on Zoom,” or had any say at all in this important matter.

Frances Genovese