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Committee on Open Government director an idealist at heart

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Robert Freeman is the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, one of just a handful of agencies of its kind nationwide.

— For many, the heady dreams and lofty ideals of the 1960s gave way to more pragmatic goals; it was less about saving the world and more about saving for retirement.

But that wasn’t necessarily the case for Bob Freeman.

“When I was in college in the late 1960s, it was the era of protest and idealism,” Freeman said. “Many of us were very much involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements. So what did we do? We sat around talking about how we were going to change the world. What I’ve discovered is that if we can make a dent in the world, that is a sign of success.”

Freeman has spent the last 38 years making his dent working for the New York State Committee on Open Government, a state office dedicated to insuring that the public has access to public information. The two-person office is part of the New York State Department of State, and it’s one of just a handful nationwide that fulfills this particular mission.

“Every state has some sort of open records law and some sort of open meetings law, but only a handful have created offices like ours,” Freeman said. “When there’s a question, people have nobody to call. Here we literally receive thousands of inquiries annually and millions of hits on our website. FOIL has become a part of the vocabulary of thousands of New Yorkers. It’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s even an adjective.”

As executive director of the office, Freeman has addressed numerous government related organizations, bar associations, media groups and has lectured at various colleges and universities. He has also spoken on open government laws and concepts throughout the United States, as well as Canada, the far east, Latin America and eastern Europe, and has taught the only course in an American law school on public access to government information.

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