Small Step By County Is A Big Setback For Transparency
Tucked into a resolution for Wednesday’s Chautauqua County Legislature meeting is a two-word change that drastically decreases the legislature’s transparency with the public.
Currently, the legislature and its committees post verbatim minutes of meetings — except for presentations — so that members of the public or the press can get a sense of legislative discussions of issues. Verbatim minutes are incredibly useful for members of the public who want to know more about things that pass through Chautauqua County government. It’s particularly useful to be able to go back a period of years to refresh one’s memory about why certain decisions were made.
On Wednesday, legislators will have before them a host of changes to rules and regulations to remove the word verbatim from the rules dictating how minutes are kept.
It’s a bad move that legislators should reconsider before they vote Wednesday.
It is easier and cheaper to provide basic minutes of a meeting. That’s why so many local governments and school districts provide the most basic minutes they can.
It is also easier to hide from the public the reasons why decisions were made, particularly when meetings are being held when it is difficult for the public to attend. Basic minutes make it almost impossible to reconstruct why decisions were made and hide forever the reasons why elected officials made decisions.
In an age when technology should allow more open government, Chautauqua County is taking a step to make government less open.
In our view, if the legislature goes forward with more basic, less detailed minutes, then the legislature should also provide a video or audio recording of the meetings on its website and make those recordings available to the public.