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State opinion OKs videoconferencing for planning meeting

This slide of the Heartland Town Square was

This slide of the Heartland Town Square was shown during a meeting of the Islip Town planning board in 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The state’s top open meetings official has issued a formal opinion saying a Suffolk County planning commissioner’s participation by videoconference in a meeting Wednesday at which the chair will be elected is “not . . . prohibited or inconsistent” with the state law.

However, the opinion Tuesday by Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, followed actions of County Executive Steve Bellone’s aides that appeared to affect the chances for the linkup for commission member Nicholas Planamento, who is slated to be patched in from Kennedy Airport after returning from a trip.

The wrangling came as the commission prepared to vote Wednesday on the 9,000-unit Heartland Square Project in Central Islip.

The panel also will decide whether the current chairwoman, Jennifer Casey, or developer Michael Kelly will lead the 14-member body for the coming year.

Casey, who backed the videoconferencing arrangement, said she wanted “to prevent the injustice to a process that would prevent one of the members from voting.”

Casey has said County Attorney Dennis Brown told her the commission could be “in peril” legally by allowing a video link from the airport. A Brown aide said parking fees could pose a barrier to public access to the airport.

Further complicating the issue, Sarah Lansdale, county planning director, failed to include the Kennedy JetBlue Terminal as a videoconferencing site on the required public meeting notice. Commissioner Nicholas Morehead, who is ill and scheduled to link in from the Shelter Island Library, was on the notice.

Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Lansdale emailed Planamento twice but never got details for a hookup or his location in the terminal. Casey said such information wasn’t necessary for the meeting notice.

Casey also said Lansdale failed to send her a copy of the notice before it went out, despite repeated requests. Baird-Streeter said Bellone is not backing anyone for chair and has played no role.

Freeman said the public is more likely to attend the commission meeting in Riverhead, but has access at the airport. He also dismissed parking fee concerns: “To reach Shelter Island the public must pay to take a ferry . . . yet I’m not aware of any objection.”

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