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Legislator Wants More Info Made Public

A 12-word change to the state Open Meetings Law could make it much easier for people to keep up with their local governments.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, recently sponsored A.10983, which simply deletes the phrase “to the extent possible as determined by the agency or the department” from section 103 of the Open Meetings Law. Section 103 governs making meetings documents scheduled to be discussed during a meeting available to the public before the meeting as well as to make agendas available both in person and online.

Paulin says Section 103’s language that such items be made available “to the extent possible” creates loopholes and a way for government not to make information avialable, citing a recent New York Coalition for Open Government analysis that found 15% of 41 local governments surveyed aren’t posting meeting documents.

“COVID-19 has made it apparent that there is technology readily available for agencies to use in an effort to be more transparent,” Paulin wrote in her legislative justification. “Meetings are only taking place virtually and individuals are at an immense disadvantage because there is no in-person opportunity to request a hard copy of any documents at the meeting. Therefore, it is even more important that agencies utilize the technology available to post documents online where the public can effectively access them.”

A July report by the New York Coalition for Open Government chided Jamestown for being one of the large governments sampled that wasn’t posting all documents online before a meeting happens. Shortly after the report, Mayor Eddie Sundquist instructed city staff to include more information in the agendas and to make sure all of the information is posted online before the meetings.

“Technology has its limits though and Zoom rooms, with streaming and sound issues, aren’t always conducive for encouraging the discussions needed for City Council meetings,” Sundquist said in an op-ed recently in The Post-Journal. “Because of this, I devised with my staff a report system to explain resolutions and actions appearing on the agenda. This was to make it clear not only what exactly is being proposed but why the actions were important and necessary. The reports also showed the fiscal impact of each resolution on the City and taxpayers. We include the reports in the agendas sent to City Council members as well as posting them online before City Council work sessions. The reports benefit both the media and public as they take sometimes stilted government legalese and make it understandable for everyone.”

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