Community boards will now be able to host their meetings remotely using the online video conferencing platform Cisco WebEx, amid a statewide ban on gatherings to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to officials.
The city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has offered all of the city’s 59 community boards — 18 of which are in Brooklyn — a license for the program to resume their meetings online, spokeswoman Zenovia Earle said Monday.
“DoITT has already reached out to all 59 community boards regarding the City’s offer to provide WebEx licenses to allow them to host their meetings remotely. Any community board interested in this service will receive a license,” Earle said in a statement.
The boards will get a WebEx license free of charge and will be able to use the program as soon as they activate their accounts, according to Earle.
The move follows an April 4 letter by Borough President Eric Adams asking that the Department make a safe web conferencing tool available for Brooklyn’s boards, in light of the issues surrounding the popular program Zoom, which has recently come under fire for privacy issues.
“It is integral that while we deal with the COVID-19 crisis, we must not create a long-term data integrity crisis. It is imperative that DoITT act quickly to identify secure, reliable, and cost-effective options to keep all sectors of government running during this challenging time,” wrote Adams in the letter.
The Department of Education banned teachers and administrators from using Zoom Sunday due to concerns of security breaches and a new phenomenon called “Zoom-bombing,” where uninvited attendees hijack meetings, often with racist or otherwise offensive comments, the Post reported.
The borough’s commander-in-chief also called on agencies throughout the city to use WebEx, which Mayor Bill de Blasio has already implemented for his daily press briefings on the coronavirus outbreak.
Brooklyn civic leaders had previously called on Adams to help community boards use online meeting tools, after his Manhattan counterpart Gale Brewer bought Zoom licenses for all 12 boards in her borough.
One district manager said she was pleased that city officials were getting the ball rolling.
“It’s positive, I feel like it did get things moving,” said Celestina Leon, of Bushwick’s Community Board 4.
While the city suspended its land use review procedures — one of the primary issues community boards weigh in on — Leon and other board leaders previously said that the boards still have other applications coming in, including for state liquor licenses and work on landmarked buildings.
What’s more, the boards also serve as a community forum for locals to get information about their neighborhood, which has become all the more crucial during a time of social distancing, Leon said.
“If people have questions, it’s a great time for people to have dialogue and the absence of that really makes us feel more socially distanced,” she said.
The full board and committee meetings are open to the public and must allow for public comment, according to the state’s Open Meetings Law.