WATERTOWN — During the past year, the pandemic has caused cancellations and altered the way we all do things.
Last year as the lockdown was announced, the New York State Tug Hill Commission canceled its Local Government Conference, one its biggest events of the year. The commission, a non-regulatory state agency which helps local governments, organizations and citizens especially with environmental and economic issues, assists with providing training and technical assistance.
During the Local Government Conference, municipal leaders and employees are invited to attend a variety of workshops ranging from legal aspects, employee management, zoning and planning issues, grant writing to cyber security. The annual event usually attracts about 700 including presenters, vendors and representatives from municipalities according to Katie Malinowski, commission executive director.
Despite the cancellation, the commission still wanted to provide the information especially since members of planning and zoning boards are required to obtain four hours of training each year.
“We had to shift our delivery mode,” said Ms. Malinowski.
The commission was able to record many of the speakers scheduled for the 2020 Local Government Conference and present the information via webinars.
With the success of this new format, the commission staff was able to offer the other major training event — Black River Watershed Conference — in a virtual format along with other training sessions and some new ventures.
The director pointed out that there are advantages to the webinar format.
“We offered some sessions with a hybrid option — Zoom or in person,” Ms. Malinowski said. “Only a handful of people came in person either from concerns about exposure to the virus or the convenience of Zoom.”
She noted the increase in participation with approximately 1,600 individuals attend a workshop, most via webinar in 2020 and a total of about 340 in virtual attendance for the eight webinars held this year.
“While using video-conferencing is not ideal for networking and fellowship, it does allow an effective means of education, outreach and interaction,” an article in the commission’s annual report stated.
Utilizing the virtual format, the commission was able to provide some programs on history including “The Constable Chronicles” which attracted people from through out the country and even some from other countries. The two-part series “Letters from a Tug Hill Logger” was also presented and Ms. Malinowski said they have plans to continue with the historical offerings.
“It is neat to be able to offer these programs,” she said, noting they want to obtain first hand oral history while they can. “People have history in their heads which will be lost if we don’t get it done.”
Working with the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust the commission offered programs including Easement 101, Farmland and Forest Conservation.
In the works, the commission is planning to have an expert speak about climate data.
“We normally have a keynote speaker at the Local Government Conference and we wanted to bring that idea to the webinar format,” said Ms. Malinowski.
Retired television meteorologist and adjunct assistant professor in meteorology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, David Eichorn will speak on March 25.
“It will be a fact-based talk about climate data,” Ms. Malinowski said. “He explain the data in layman terms.”
It is uncertain at this time what programs will be continued once the pandemic restrictions for gathering are lifted. However, with the cancellation of the two major training events, webinars will continue through 2021, the director said.
“We have webinars scheduled for April and May,” she said. “We may do hybrid sessions again. It will take people a while to feel comfortable once things open up again.”
Programs are available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvolFp3AbYlQW0DNDSTNHww/videos. A listing of the programs with the specific link for viewing is available at https://tughill.org/services/training/.