Mar 13, 2012 Amanda Seef Uncategorized
A provision in the state’s open meetings law aims to help the public understand what’s going on at board meetings.
The newest portion of the law requires boards to make available any document they may be discussing prior to meetings. The law also requires municipalities to post the documents, such as resolutions, site plan proposals and budgets, online, should they have a functioning website.
“This new provision will have an immense impact over time,” said Bob Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government. “This new amendment provides real transparency. No longer will people sit in the second row at a board meeting and wonder what the board is discussing when a reference is made to the third paragraph on page two. That document will be made available to the public prior to the meeting. This is the most significant change we’ve seen in three decades.”
Local municipalities are still working to put the law into effect — documents are available, and plans are being made to post that information to the web. Syracuse was posting the documents associated with the common council well before the law was put into effect, said John Copanas, city clerk.
Enacting the law, though, could be troublesome for some municipalities that lack the proper technology, Freeman said.
“I think there is some fear associated,” he said. “In my opinion, it is unwarranted because it is exceedingly flexible. The pace of change is so dramatic that what is difficult or even impossible today will become absolutely routine in a relatively short period of time.”
Local municipal leaders are crying out over an additional unfunded mandate, though.
“It’s onerous for small governments and it’s onerous for a small staff,” said Richard Donovan, mayor of Minoa and president of the Onondaga County Mayors Association. “I think it has gone too far.”
Donovan also questions what is considered public under this new provision — for example, he asked, if there are notes being taken on a budget worksheet, would that be required to be made available?
“It gives access, potentially, to materials that aren’t official in any way, shape or form,” he said.
DeWitt Town Clerk Barbara Klim said the town has been ahead of the curve, complying with the law since it went into effect Feb. 2.
“We were very nervous about identifying exactly what documents have to go up and the timeframe that they have to go out,” she said. “Certainly there isn’t anything we weren’t willing to hand out ahead of time.”
Instead of making copies prior to the meeting, the town tries to work within its sustainability guidelines and uses a copy machine during meetings for requested copies.
“I don’t think anyone is in disagreement about doing it and the benefit of doing it,” Klim said. “It’s beneficial to have an informed population. It makes meetings better and it makes the discussions better.”