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EDITORIAL: Open meeting laws not open to interpretation

— Questionable usage of the open meeting laws has lead to a bit of skepticism regarding local governmental boards’ understanding of the laws. The laws, put in place to protect and provide information to the public, are guidelines put in place by New York state government, recognized by the Committee on Open Government. While the law has no teeth, something this staff also takes issue with, the rules should continue to be adhered to for the greater good of the public.

We take issue with the calling of a special town board meeting in Manlius, which was both detrimental to our readers and the town’s residents. The meeting was called so that the town board could set a time for a public hearing, a required action before the board can vote on the local law.

This local law would override Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s property tax levy cap legislation. Notice of the meeting, held Nov. 14, was only sent to the Post-Standard, the paper of choice for printing of the legal notice (our deadline had passed). Notice to the public was placed in town hall and on the website, which has been experiencing server problems in recent weeks, rendering residents and news media unable to access information.

It is not realistic, nor should it be expected, for the news media to be trolling town websites each day, hour-by-hour, for postings of special meetings. The guidelines in the open meetings law explicitly state notice should be given to news media, not just the news outlet of which the legal notice is being placed.

Had the staff of the Eagle Bulletin been made aware of the special meeting, the information regarding the last-minute decision to override the tax cap could have been printed. Instead, last week’s paper included quotes from town board members saying they had no intent to take a hike higher than 2 percent in property taxes. While the town taxes remain under 2 percent, the fire protection district in Fayetteville has pushed the tax increase to more than 4 percent. That information was exempt from last week’s story. Notice of the public hearing, which was set for this past Tuesday, was also exempt from the story — a disservice to the residents.

While we are cognizant that the town is under immense pressure from the dealings with the budget, we hope that in the future, more effort is put into making sure news media, and residents, are aware of the issues facing the town.

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