Elected officials should make transparency their New Year resolution

Paul Wolf

In January, many will start the New Year with goals to exercise more, eat better, lose weight etc. January will also be when newly elected public servants or incumbents starting another term take office across New York state.

Old habits are hard to change in people and especially hard to change in government. Elected officials should begin 2022 by conducting the public’s business in an open and transparent way. To show their commitment to open government, elected officials serving on a village board, town board, city council or a county legislature should introduce and pass a New Year resolution stating they will:

1) Post timely notice of all meetings at least one week prior to a meeting.

2) Post meeting agendas and all meeting documents online, at least 48 hours before a meeting.

3) Post draft meeting minutes online, no more than two weeks after a meeting.

4) Allow members of the public to speak at the beginning of a meeting regarding agenda items and non-agenda items whether attending in person or remotely.

5) Support live streaming of meetings by video and posting the video recording online afterwards.

6) Only conduct private executive sessions on rare occasions in accordance with the New York State Open Meetings Law. We understand that a motion to hold an executive session to discuss “litigation”, “personnel” or “collective bargaining” is not sufficient, as the Open Meetings Law requires motions to state more information when holding an executive session.

7) Support having our elected members complete and post an Annual Financial Disclosure Form on our government website. (Just as state elected officials do)

8) While private political party caucus meetings are allowed under the law, we agree to not hold such meetings. There is no reason at the local level to hold private political party caucus meetings to discuss political business or public business.

9) We support the public’s right to obtain records and will ensure that information regarding the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), is posted in a visible place on our website. We will proactively post documents online as much as possible so that the public can access information without having to file a FOIL request. We will also post an easy fill in the blank form that assists the public in filing a FOIL request by email on our website.

10) We are committed to having all FOIL requests responded to in a timely manner and will on a quarterly basis request a status report regarding FOIL requests from an appropriate staff member to monitor compliance with the law.

Paul Wolf is President of the New York Coalition For Open Government.

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