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Oyster Bay Town to give public access to meeting transcripts

Oyster Bay Town officials expect costs for stenography services for the Zoning Board of Appeals to increase by as much as 200 percent this year under a new policy of making meeting transcripts available to the public.

The board previously advised people seeking hearing transcripts to purchase them directly from the stenography company. Beginning this year, the ZBA has started to make the transcripts available free for review or 25 cents per page copied after they are requested.

“The additional funds are necessary to cover anticipated expenses for transcribing and production of minutes for the remaining calendar year,” Diana Aquiar, deputy commissioner of planning and development, wrote in an internal memo posted on the town’s website.

The Town Board at its June 21 meeting increased its authorization to as much as $30,000 a year from $10,000 for Mineola-based On-Time Reporting Inc.

Under its contract with the company, the town pays On-Time Reporting set prices for transcribing ZBA meetings — $85 for the first three hours of recording a meeting and $30 an hour for additional hours — and $5.85 per page of transcribed text.

Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said the town was now providing the documents to the public directly because of increased public demand.

“We haven’t gotten the requests for these verbatim transcripts the way we have in recent months, which was the need for this increase,” Kane said.

Kane did not respond to questions about when the new policy began. Councilman Chris Coschignano, the Town Board liaison to the planning and development department, said in an email that he believed the new policy began one or two months ago.

“It hopefully coincides with a movement towards additional transparency and more open access,” Coschignano said.

Kane said that upon request, the town will pay the stenography company to produce a transcript for a hearing. That transcript will then be retained by the town and made available to the public.

Earlier this year, Newsday sued Oyster Bay to try to obtain documents requested through the state’s Open Meeting Law and Freedom of Information Law, including several years of ZBA meeting minutes. Town officials initially said that zoning board minutes, in the form of transcripts, were only available directly from the stenography company and that the company would charge for them.

New York State Open Meeting Law requires agencies, including ZBAs, to take minutes recording motions, proposals, resolutions as well as the votes and to provide public access free of charge. Town officials later made available to Newsday the board worksheets that were used to record votes on zoning appeals and deemed them “traditional minutes.” The case is pending in New York State Supreme Court in Mineola.

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