State Needs To Give Real Teeth To Its Open Government Rules

The New York Coalition for Open Government is absolutely correct when it says Chautauqua County legislators should use Chautauqua County provided email addresses for official business.

So it’s good to see Chautauqua County agrees with the Coalition for Open Government and is in the midst of providing a county email address to all legislators. We also note, it’s good that legislators put their phone numbers on the county website so constituents can contact them by phone and have provided a link to legislators’ private email addresses. It’s more than many other counties have done, according to the coalition.

The move the county is making to a public email address for legislators should be copied by any other town or village government, or school district, for that matter. Emails where government business is conducted should be archived and preserved as governmental records subject to FOIL. One never knows when one day’s deleted trash email is an important piece of the public record.

But it is another recommendation that catches our eye — and it should catch the eye of Democrats in Albany, too. The state needs to create an entity with the power, budget and staff to monitor compliance with and to enforce state open records and open meetings laws. There are far too many local governments for a small, non-profit agency to monitor compliance and the state Committee on Open Government has never been tasked with ensuring compliance.

In our opinion, the fact the Coalition for Open Government continues to find issues in its regular reports is a sign that New York state needs to step in and properly fund an open meetings and open records agency. And, while we’re at it, open records and open meetings legislation needs to have some real teeth for governments that don’t follow the law — including state legislators who love to conduct important public business behind closed doors.


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