Clear communication between local government and constituents has never been more important than in this time of particular stress and angst, with COVID-19 cases hitting record levels and uncertainty abounding.
Supervisor Yvette Aguiar says she strives for transparency in all facets of government. To be sure, her administration has made strides in some important ways. For example, documents to be discussed at town board meetings and work sessions are now posted on the town’s website in advance of the meetings. That is a big improvement. Kudos to Aguiar and her staff for making that happen.
In the interests of transparency, it’s important for all town boards and committees to abide by the same policy. For one thing, the State Open Meetings Law requires all documents to be discussed at meetings subject to the law be made available at or prior to the meeting. Posting them online, especially in the pandemic time, affords citizens the opportunity to review them before a meeting, enhancing their ability to be informed participants in local government.
We’d take that a step further, too. Agendas for all meetings should be posted online at least 24-48 hours ahead of time, so residents know what matters will be taken up, affording them the chance to make an informed decision whether to attend a particular meeting.
With COVID raging in our area, the decision to provide Zoom access was a smart one. The policy allowing citizens to fully participate in meetings remotely should be a uniform policy that applies to all boards — and at the very least to the planning board and ZBA in addition to the town board. The town board has the ability to mandate that and should do so by resolution.
The town’s website should be updated so that it’s more informative about COVID-19 issues and useful to citizens looking for information about where to get tested or get a vaccine.
The COVID-19 information link at the top of the town’s homepage contains information that is woefully out of date. The top item on the list of links on that page — which bears a date of Jan. 19, 2021 — is about Hurricane Henri. The Riverhead COVID-19 testing sites page, dated Dec. 23, 2020, contains out-of-date information that will only confuse and frustrate residents seeking a test at a time like this, when they are in short supply and hard to book.
We’re not sure who is responsible for the content on the town’s website, but we know Riverhead Town can and should do better than this. Look to the websites of Southampton and Brookhaven towns for examples of sites that are more useful to residents.
Too often, communication with the public seems to be an afterthought in Riverhead — again this long predates the current administration. We get it. There’s no public information office — or even a dedicated staff member. But it’s important to let people know about things, both big and small, that affect their lives — whether by publishing the agendas of public meetings, or providing much-needed public health information in a time of crisis, or letting folks know about an extended road shut-down after a major accident or for repaving.
Local media outlets like ours are always more than happy to help communicate information like that when we’re made aware of it. And we can say with certainty that residents are grateful for it.
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