In the early evening Monday, the Greene County Legislature took a quick vote that, in the overall scheme of things, would likely not mean much to our readers, but it was by no means trivial. That vote was a short, sharp blow to transparency in county government.
By a 10-3 vote (with one abstention), the Greene County Legislature, for the first time in memory, cut ties with The Daily Mail and made the Times Union the county’s official newspaper. And that wasn’t all. The Republicans chose The Mountain Eagle as their official newspaper and the Democrats selected the Daily Freeman as their official paper.
In short, important legal notices will be sent to newspapers miles away from Greene County, so far away that Daily Mail buyers are not likely to see them, let alone read them. It also means that significant revenue will be sucked from a local business and absorbed by newspapers that few in Greene County buy.
But this column isn’t about money or motive. It’s about informing the Legislature’s constituents of meetings, tax delinquencies, budgetary matters and much more that The Daily Mail is unable to report. By sealing off The Daily Mail, the Legislature is hiding from its constituents and diverting information to non-Greene County newspapers.
What do we mean by this? Here’s an example. We did a little research and found that The Daily Mail printed more than 1,000 local stories, staff-driven, press releases and assorted briefs and announcements, in 2019. On the other hand, the Times Union printed 34 stories — yes, 34, in the same time period. That is not daily local coverage. It’s fewer than three stories per month.
On the night of the vote, there were no Times Union reporters in attendance. The Daily Mail was represented as was, to be fair here, The Mountain Eagle. But the Eagle is a weekly based in Schoharie County and has little presence in Greene County.
Monday’s vote called attention to the need for transparency in government. The Legislature wanted to keep the meeting moving and offered no logical explanation or justification for its action.
Instead, one lawmaker told us we “really screwed ourselves this time” — presumably for doing our jobs — and complained about coverage, then complained about the newspaper’s delivery. When told there is a big difference between coverage and delivery, the response was silence.
Where’s the accountability in that?
And where is the transparency in publishing local legal notices about special meetings, special elections, annual tax payments and much more in newspapers that local readers may not see or care to wade through.
This is a troubling sign that suggests the Legislature may be more interested in holding meetings few constituents will know about than in working with its local newspaper.
We won’t speculate in this space about why the Legislature did this. It could be political retribution. It could be a bombardment of Freedom of Information Law requests. Who can tell?
One thing we will emphasize in closing is that the Legislature’s Buy in Greene campaign obviously does not include its local newspaper. Our lawmakers prefer to spend taxpayer money elsewhere this year.