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Coalition Urges Changes At Open Government Committee

Gov. Kathy Hochul is fond of mentioning her goal of transparency in the governor’s office.

The state Coalition for Open Government wants to hold Hochul to her word, asking Hochul to replace former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pick to lead the state Committee on Open Government. Paul Wolf, the coalition’s president, made the request in a letter sent to Hochul’s office on Wednesday.

Open government groups were unhappy with Bewlay’s appointment, noting her position opposing open records requests in her position as Office of Information Technology Services FOIL appeals officer and the closed-door process that led to her appointment in January 2020. Since her appointment, the few mentions of Bewlay in the press have been in regard to a decision stating that votes cast by elected officials attending a meeting via Zoom may be invalid unless lawmakers provide an opportunity for the public to attend, listen and observe at any site at which a member participates.

“As executive director of the committee, Bewlay refused to render an opinion regarding Cuomo not releasing information for his $5 million book deal requested through a FOIL,” Wolf wrote in his letter. “The reason given by Bewlay for not issuing an opinion, was that courts have not ruled on the issue. The committee has rendered many opinions on issues that courts have not ruled on, but Bewlay as a Cuomo appointee chose to dodge Cuomo’s denial of a FOIL request. Also troubling is that Bewlay and the state employees on the committee do not support allowing the public to speak at Committee on Open Government meetings. The fact that public participation at Committee meetings is even a debate is amazing. The committee should serve as a model for other public bodies to follow.”

Wolf is also asking for changes to the Committee on Open Government’s structure and to give the committee enough funding to hire more employees. Currently, the Committee on Open Government is made up of 11 members, with nine of the 11 positions controlled by the governor’s office. Currently, the group includes the state’s lieutenant governor, secretary of state, commissioner of general services, budget director, five appointments by the governor, including one that is an elected official. The other two appointments are by the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker.

“The wrong people are at the table and as such the number of governor appointments and state employees should be reduced and replaced with appointments by the comptroller, attorney general, media, Association of Town Clerks, Association of Counties and open government advocacy groups,” Wolf wrote. “The committee should also be empowered to designate a board chair and to hire an executive director so that it can operate independently and not beholden to the governor.”

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