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AY CDC Directors warned that attending Quality of Life meetings could trigger Open Meetings Law (and more transparency). But too few attend, as of now.

This is the last of ten articles on the 6/7/22 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation. The first concerned the affordable housing timetable. The second assessed an estimated 2031 completion date. The third addressed the impact of a potential Greenland default. The fourth concerned expectations of 421-a benefits. The fifth concerned the deadline for the Urban Room. The sixth addressed timing for the school. The seventh concerned plans for the platform. The eighth discussed community impacts of construction. The ninth concerned plans for B12/B12 affordable housing.

New AY CDC Director Trenelle Gabay seemed unfamiliar with the bi-monthly Quality of Life meetings, which began well before the (purportedly) advisory body was established in 2014, asking, "Do the directors have to be a part of that meeting?" 

Tobi Jaiyesimi, who serves as both AY CDC Executive Director and Atlantic Yards Project Manager for the parent Empire State Development--the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project--answered carefully.

"The directors are welcome to participate in the Quality of Life meeting," she said. "However, we run into an issue if we have more than majority of the directors participate in the meeting. It then becomes subject to the Open Meetings Law and we'd have to make sure that it's webcast" and go through other requirements.

Thing is, it has been webcast, at least since the pandemic, but unlike with AY CDC meetings (as in the video below), the recordings are not disseminated.

"So we've just asked that, if directors are interested in attending a Quality of Life meeting, that they send me a note," Jaiyesimi said. "If, for some reason, there happens to be more than the majority of the currently appointed directors on, I may just send a note to ask that one or two directors leave the meeting and I can provide an update on what was discussed."

The value of attendance

But the meeting notes and/or the presentation and/or Jaiyesimi's own debriefing are not equivalent to attending the meeting, whether in person (as in pre-COVID) or online. In other words, attendance allows observers to assess the demeanor and credibility of the presenters

"Okay, it's a public meeting source for the community," said Gabay. "That's why I needed to know." 

Diector Ethel Tyus sounded a little exasperated: "I had assumed that the Quality of Life meetings were open to the general public. I personally find them very informative. So maybe I misunderstood what you said."

Jaiyesimi clarified that, indeed, the meeting is open to the general public. But if more than a majority of AY CDC directors attend, she said, "then triggers a requirement that the meeting be applicable under the requirements of the Open Meetings law."

Well, when the Quality of Life meetings were held in person, it was unusual for more than one or two AY CDC directors to attend. We don't know how many observe the online versions, because attendance is not listed.

Thing is, were ESD truly committed to having its purportedly advisory body be more informed, they'd encourage AY CDC directors to attend--up to the number that would trigger a quorum. (As of now, with 11 of 14 directors appointed, it would be OK for five to attend.)

Instead, ESD--as with the design of an AY CDC meeting that required public comments submitted a day beforehand--doesn't seem focused on transparency.

Public comments

Note that, as Acting Chair Daniel Kummer stated, there were no public comments submitted. "I'm going to exercise my prerogative as Acting Chair," he said, "to see if there are any people who who came... and were unaware of the deadline and wish to make a public comment." 

Nobody volunteered. But if there's nothing wrong with public comment submitted during the meeting--as Kummer's action indicated--well, it should be a policy.

Is Open Meetings Law violated?

A 6/14/22 post on CityLand, Changes to Open Meetings Law Enable Hybrid Meetings But Present Ongoing Challenges, noted that virtual public hearings can continue as long as the state's COVID-19 disaster emergency remains in effect.

This year, however, the state approved hybrid public hearings. According to CityLand:
Under the new law, a quorum of members of the governing body must be present in the physical location, but other members may use videoconferencing to participate in the meeting due to circumstances including illness, disability...  If video conferencing is used, the public notice must also include how the public can access the meeting in person and virtually. Members of the public body must be able to be seen and heard as part of the videoconference, and members of the public must be able to view the video and participate live virtually in the same manner as if they were attending in person.
(Emphases added)

Indeed, the law states:
(h) if videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public body shall provide the opportunity for members of the public to view such meeting via video, and to participate in proceedings via videoconference in real time where public comment or participation is authorized and shall ensure that videoconferencing authorizes the same public participation or testimony as in person participation or testimony
That is not honored when the AY CDC requires comments to be submitted a day before.

New challengers

The CityLand article goes into the challenges faced by community boards, which vary in resources, and with populations that maybe tehcnologically challenged. 

One disturbing data point: "All 59 community boards are supported by a singular tech staff member from the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, but that position is currently vacant."