Riverhead Town has long been a stand-out among its East End peers for its lack of availability of meeting agendas before town board meetings, and this week, civic groups are demanding that the town do a better job of providing advance copies of its meeting agendas to the public.
Three out of five East End towns — Southold, East Hampton and Southampton — provide meeting agendas through townclerk.com, which enables towns to upload videos, meeting agendas, minutes, public hearing notices and other public information in an easy-to-read, user friendly portion of the towns’ own websites. Shelter Island puts its meeting agendas on the town’s website well in advance of town meetings. And most East End villages also make their public meeting agendas, minutes and sometimes videos readily available.
townclerk.com is a product provided by IQM2 Intelligent Meeting Management, which designed many East End towns’ websites.
But in Riverhead, with the exception of town board work session meetings, which are often available either the evening before or the morning of meetings, agendas are rarely, if ever, posted online, and online videos of town meetings are few and far between.
In a group letter to the town board Tuesday, the leaders of the Group for the East End, Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, Northville Beach Civic Association, North Fork Environmental Council, Jamesport East Property Owners Association and Save Main Road described this practice as “highly undemocratic” and asked the town board to draft a resolution “requiring that all public meetings—of every agency & committee— conduct only business included on an agenda posted on the town website at least 7 days prior.”
“It has become commonplace for town agencies, departments & committees not to disclose agendas for public meetings until a few hours before the meetings commence,” they wrote. “Occasionally more notice is provided, but there are also instances where agendas are handed out as sessions get underway. This squelches public participation in town affairs.”
“Rules for notice of public hearings tend to be scrupulously followed, but they only alert the public to the initial meeting. People who have shown interest in the process by appearing and testifying are effectively locked out of continuing discussions and deliberations by the board or agency involved, and often learn resolutions have been presented and voted on without having the opportunity to attend those meetings,” they added. “Simply put, the public has a right to witness the discussion of town business, and to offer comment at appropriate times. In order to exercise that right, the public must know in advance what business will be discussed, with reasonable notice so they may arrange to attend.”
In a press release accompanying their letter, members of the civic groups said “the supervisor was asked to address this problem more than a month ago, after a major project—which had been dormant for months—was suddenly approved at a public meeting. None of the organizations and people that had been tracking this project were present for the discussion and vote, for the simple reason that no notice was given.”