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YouTube

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PJ village meeting videos are available for 24 hours after their livestreamed. Image caputred from YouTube

Meeting videos available online from the Village of Port Jefferson are being taken down after 24 hours. Though as the village points to the lack of any law that mandates a government or agency keep recordings up for any length of time, some residents said it’s a matter of transparency as well as allowing more residents the opportunity to participate in village government.

Since the start of the pandemic, Port Jefferson has been livestreaming every board of trustee, planning, zoning and zoning board of appeals meeting live on YouTube to the village’s account. Those livestreamed videos were then left up as videos for the public to view.

Sometime within the last few months, those videos have started to be taken down after a 24-hour period. No public announcement was made that past videos would no longer be available.

Officials said the point of them using YouTube is not to set up a permanent library of meetings, adding the meeting minutes remain the official documentation of prior meetings.

The village board of trustees hosts meetings every other Monday, where one takes place in the afternoon around 3:30 p.m., which does not allow public comment, and another meeting in the later evening around 7 p.m., which does allow public comment. During the pandemic, residents were able to ask questions to the board via a chat window on the YouTube page, via email or by being invited to the board’s Zoom meeting. Currently, meeting videos from the past few months still exist on the village’s YouTube channel in several different playlists, but all are currently set to private and are inaccessible by the public.

Before the pandemic, Port Jefferson did not record any meetings either live or for viewing after the fact. 

In comparison, the Town of Brookhaven allows people to view the bimonthly Zoom meetings and offer comments via email or through Zoom chat. Those Zoom meetings are posted to YouTube where each can be
viewed indefinitely. 

New York State’s Open Meetings Law has changed due to the pandemic, eliminating the mandate that meetings need to be held in person and be available to the public. New open meeting guidelines do relay that an agency or authority “to the extent practicable and within available funds, streamed on such website in real time, and posted on such website within and for a reasonable time after the meeting.”

Village Attorney Brian Egan said neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) COVID-19 executive orders nor the state Public Officers Law require a village to keep a perpetual archive of meeting videos. 

“The YouTube videos were done to fulfill the requirement of the ‘real-time’ viewing requirement of the executive orders but were never intended to form a video meeting library,” Egan said via email. “Once the meeting time passed, the videos were removed shortly thereafter. The official record has been, and remains, the officially adopted meeting minutes.”

Egan added that once after the pandemic passes and the executive orders expire the village will look to return to in-person meetings and will no longer need to use YouTube.

Rebecca Kassay, the village’s most recently elected trustee, said she would like to see those videos become available again.

“While we have this temporary platform, why not utilize the benefit of increased accessibility?”  Kassay said in an email. “We’re proud of what we do for the community; I’d like for more folks to be able to tune in at their convenience and see how local government is working for them. It’s always impressive to hear just how much my fellow trustees and the mayor have to report on a very wide range of Port Jefferson community efforts, from safety issues to the [Port Jefferson] Country Club to environmental protection.” 

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Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland, second from left, helps build a robot with his high school robotics team Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

By Kyle Barr

Even at 17, Rocky Point High School senior Kyle Markland is a renaissance man.

Markland is a scientist and a musician, an engineer and an artist. This past year, he competed in several regional and national science fairs with his project on improving GPS technologies in autonomous cars. On May, 6 he played double bass for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland hoists up a championship trophies with his high school robotics team, Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

“The balance of his technical skills and his creativity — how he’s able to excel in both areas at such a high level is tremendous,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.

In 2013 Markland took a trip to the First LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the first stops he made was to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, where he saw pictures and models of the wondrous inventions of one of the world’s most famous engineers and painters. It inspired something within himself.

“It really took me back how intelligent he was — a lot of his engineering stuff, but also how he was an artist, with all his paintings like the Mona Lisa — he stands out in so many different areas,” Markland said. “It’s something that I want to do for myself — stand out and do the best I can in a lot of different arenas.”

Just like how da Vinci was an inventor and engineer, Markland too has a knack for understanding the way things work, and expressed his engineering skills through LEGO Mindstorms.

Mindstorms is a branch of LEGO where technic blocks are used to program robots that can perform any number of functions. The senior took an interest in robotics when he was in 5th grade, saving up birthday money for several years before buying his first Mindstorms kit.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland performed with his bass at Carnegie Hall. Photo from Lori Markland

In 2014 he created the YouTube channel Builderdude35, where he regularly posts tutorials and videos of his LEGO creations. Markland has over 14,000 subscribers, and said he regularly receives questions and requests for help from people all over the world.

“The tutorials were a way of sharing my own experience that I learned through [school] or at home,” Markland said.

In April he published the book “Building Smart LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robots,” in which he highlights six of his unique robotics projects — all of which he built and coded. One of his flagship creations is a quirky interactive robot named “Grunt” that will eat different colored LEGO blocks and react differently to each one. The robot will respond to when waved at, and even stick out a small LEGO claw to shake your hand.

Markland’s mother, Lori, recalled her son marveling at the way things worked even at a young age.

“His passion was cars, building, robotics, machinery,” she said. “When we brought him to a cotton candy machine, he was looking at all the moving parts underneath it.”

The senior does all this with an incredibly busy schedule. He spends most of his time travelling, whether for scientific research, music or robotics, and still finds the time for schoolwork. To Markland, music is his most calming influence. It helps to settle his mind. He said the music is also not only just for him.

“I want to feel like I’m using my time for something bigger than myself,” Markland said. “I want to feel accomplished. The channel is a way to teach people, the book is a way to teach people; my music is something that makes people happy.”

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland holds up a book he published on building robots. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Markland will graduate salutatorian of his class. He was accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and California Institute of Technology, and chose MIT not just because he sees it as the most prestigious, but because the admissions officer personally called to congratulate him.

“[It’s] crazy, because they don’t really do that,” Markland said.

Next week Markland will be travelling to participate at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will face off against 1,800 students from over 75 different countries.

“From the get-go Kyle has been very self-motivated,” Markland’s science teacher and mentor at Nancy Hunter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a student who matches his ability define a problem, figure out how he’s going to go about solving a problem, and does it all.”

While the science fair sounds daunting, the student has been methodical in his preparation. In times of stress, he said he thinks of something his cousin, a soldier in the U.S Marines, told him: “He told me, ‘there’s nothing more powerful than one who plans his work and works his plan.’”

Over the summer, Shoreham-Wading River graduate and singer-songwriter Gina Mingoia stepped into her father’s home studio in their garage to fulfill a promise she made to her late friend and classmate Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old student who died in October 2014 following a head-on collision during a football game.

Months before his death, when they were both entering 11th grade, Cutinella told Mingoia, who was then in the process of auditioning for NBC’s “The Voice,” that if she ever became famous, she had to write a song about him.

More than two years later, it’s the 18-year-old singer’s heartfelt and moving “I Wish (Tom’s Song),” released last week on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube with a music video that’s reached more than 8,000 views, about Cutinella, their long friendship and the impact of his loss, that has catapulted her into the local spotlight.

Gina Mingoia and Tom Cutinella in eighth grade. Photo from Gina Mingoia

Both the song, which recently hit the airwaves on 101.7 “The Beach,” and its video, which shows Mingoia reflecting on her friend in several settings including the high school’s recently-dedicated Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, have served as sources of healing for those closest to Cutinella, especially Mingoia herself.

“I Wish” was the first song she wrote after the fatal accident, between December 2014 and January 2015, after taking some time away from her passion in the midst of mourning.

Even though she had been trying to write songs in the aftermath that weren’t about the loss, she couldn’t. Finally, she sat down and the song came pouring out in as little as 15 minutes. “I wish I got to say goodbye,” sings Mingoia in the bridge. “To see his smile one more time.”

“The words came quickly,” Mingoia said. “I played the guitar and wrote it. I didn’t even show my dad for a while after … I just kind of kept it to myself.”

Her father Sal, a Suffolk County police officer and local musician who served as producer and played all the instruments on “I Wish,” said the song helped his daughter get through her devastation.

“[Gina] had a strange reaction to the death; all of her friends were collapsing and hitting the ground and screaming and crying, but she almost had no reaction,” Sal Mingoia said. “She just walked around in a daze — so maybe the song is what brought her out of it and brought her back to normal. She put all her feelings into it and it just came out.”

“To know that [Gina Mingoia] respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it.”

—Kelli Cutinella

After recording “I Wish” in the middle of summer, Mingoia said her father was adamant about filming a video for the song and showing it to the world, but she knew she couldn’t do that without the approval of the Cutinella family. Sal and Gina Mingoia have performed together at the Thomas Cutinella Golf Tournament, a fundraising event started by Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s parents, and it was there, in October 2016, that Mingoia shared the song with them.

“I thought they were going to say no,” she said. “I thought it was going to be too invasive, but they loved it and pushed for it. Once it was done, Mrs. Cutinella just got right up and hugged me, for like five minutes, and said in my ear that he is watching and that he loved it. That made me cry.”

Kelli Cutinella, who thinks Mingoia is “an amazing artist with a beautiful voice,” was especially moved. As it’s their mission in life to keep her son’s memory alive and his legacy strong, she and her husband felt honored.

“She did not have to write this song about [Tom] … she wrote it from her heart and that speaks volumes to us,” Cutinella said. “To know that she respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it, and as soon as she shared it with us, we shared it with others.”

Thomas Cutinella died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

For the video, shot in November, Sal Mingoia enlisted the help of his friend Frank Lombardi, a police helicopter pilot and skilled cameraman whose expertise helped bring the message of the song to life.

The emotional video features the singer, wearing a hat that bears Cutinella’s jersey number “54” throughout, looking at her late friend’s “in loving memory” page in the yearbook, clippings from newspaper articles following his passing, and a local barber shop adorned with his name and number.

In a shot in the beginning of the video, Mingoia shows a tattoo on her bicep that reads “I love you” in Cutinella’s handwriting, taken from a little note, featured at the end of the video, he gave to her in health class.

She said she and Cutinella, upon meeting the summer before sixth grade, were immediate friends, were always in the same science and math honors classes, and even formed an “apocalyptic preparation squad” through their love of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

“There was not a single person in the world who knew him and didn’t love him,” Mingoia said. “He was just a genuinely good person in every way.”

She thinks it’s incredible that even people who don’t know her, only knowing Cutinella, are sharing the video, a majority of whom have sent her messages sharing their favorite memories of the former Wildcats athlete.

“They’re incredible to read,” she said. “I just want people who loved Tom and need a way to remember him to use [the video]. I think our community, in particular, and all of Long Island can relate to it.”