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Syracuse council holds first online study session, legislative priorities may have to wait

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson appears over Webex video conferencing.

For the first time, the Syracuse Common Council held its study session online with video conferencing. The council’s legislative priorities may have to wait as the city deals with the fallout from the coronavirus. 

More than 60 people logged on to watch the council’s Webex video conference meeting on Wednesday. In-person meetings were still being held in council chambers, only about a week ago. Councilor Joe Driscoll said the decision to go digital came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order that elected bodies can vote remotely.

“We still have the meeting laws," Driscoll said. "We still have to make this available to the public. We are going to be sharing the link to the meeting on the website.”

Earlier this month, the council put out a legislative agenda for the year, another first of its kind, which includes implementing an independent redistricting process, a new lead ordinance and the council getting its own attorney, separate from the city.

Driscoll said those goals are now a moving target, as the city is sure to face repercussions from the epidemic.

“The economy is going to take a hit this time," Driscoll said. "Every ball is up in the air right now. Nobody really knows how this is going to look once we get out the other side.”

Driscoll said the longer the shutdown continues, the more he expects to see a societal change and change in projections for the city's budget and funding.

"We're hopeful when this all ends, we'll pick it up where we left off and hopefully, most of our legislative agenda items can still be tackled and implemented," Driscoll said. "But at this stage, the priority is checking on everybody's health, trying to make sure that our businesses stay open."

As for the council’s first online meeting, President Helen Hudson said everyone did a great job.

“We’ll just keep moving forward because we are stepping into the uncertainty,” Hudson said.

The council is expected to hold its first online vote, Monday.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.