For the second time in the weeks we have spent under COVID-19 lockdown, a majority of elected officials statewide are hearing from constituents saying more government transparency is needed during this public-health crisis, according to a state organization’s report released Tuesday.
Greene County officials should listen.
The nonpartisan charitable organization New York Coalition For Open Government reviewed the transparency of 21 government bodies — 10 counties, 11 cities and one town — across the state in April to learn if local governments representing New York’s largest localities were allowing the free flow of information at the height of the pandemic.
The report showed 14 out of 21, or about 67%, of the reviewed government bodies eliminated public comment during their April meetings, which were held digitally because of the coronavirus.
Greene County officials appear to be pulling the curtain shut on simple but vital information on the pandemic just when it is needed the most. It is close to impossible to reach Greene officials by phone or email. Repeated calls seeking even the most elementary facts such as releasing the number of positive COVID-19 cases broken down by town go unanswered every day, which is baffling considering other counties throughout the state provide that information, and much more, on their municipal websites.
Albany, Dutchess, Ulster, Saratoga, Putnam and Niagara are just a few of the counties across the state that have COVID-19 dashboards on their websites with considerable information about the virus’s impact on the counties. Even Columbia County releases the number of cases broken down by municipality on its website each Friday.
The officials the public counts on — Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden, Public Health Director Kimberly Kaplan and, responding somewhat more regularly, Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger of New Baltimore — have turned off the faucet. Groden has been largely missing in action. Groden is the public information officer for the Emergency Operations Center. So if you call there and say you’re with the press, they direct you to Groden.
One reporter has not heard from Groden since April 27. Linger last spoke to the reporter last Wednesday. Kaplan was on a conference call on April 15, during which officials were stressing the importance to the press of going directly to the county for information. That is the only time the reporter spoke to Kaplan.
The Greene County public needs to be reassured that its officials are on the job and are willing and able to share vital information with the press that represents it. The public needs to know the chain of leadership is strong and unbroken. Failure to do this can lead only to the erosion of faith in government and loss of confidence in that self-same leadership.
We’re in the midst of an unpredictably perilous situation. Why the silence, Greene County leaders?