LEWISBORO, N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill earlier this week that will require municipalities to post meeting agendas and supporting documents online at least a day in advance, but Lewisboro is already ahead of the game.
The law, sponsored by state Assembly member Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), requires records, resolutions, laws, or all matters to be discussed at an open meeting by a public body to be made available for review by the public. If they are not, the law gives citizens the right to sue the government agency.
Town and village boards, school boards and any other public review boards will be subject to the law. The law requires that agendas for public meetings be made available within 24 hours of the scheduled meeting time, and that minutes of the meetings be provided within two weeks after the meeting.
Town Clerk Kathleen Cory said Lewisboro has already been doing almost exactly what Paulins bill requires.
We already put up the agendas a couple of days in advance, she said. We have the procedures in place; we just have to refine them a bit.
Cory said the minutes are posted online as soon as theyre ready, usually within two weeks of the meeting.
Sometimes we dont make that two-week mark at the end of the year because were doing the budget and the budget meetings are so detailed, she said. But we are making an honest attempt. On some days, minutes are all l do. Its draining.
Paulin believes her bill will promote the publics involvement in local government.
I think it will enhance public participation and transparency which is extremely important, to make the public confident in their government and to make the governments better, Paulin said.
Besides agendas, Paulins bill dictates that any documents to be discussed at the meeting must be posted online if the agency utilizes an updated website with a high speed internet connection. Exceptions to the bill can be made if the documents to be posted would be too expensive or time consuming to copy.
My only issue right now is we dont have the scanning capabilities for anything over 11-by-17 inches for things plans for the planning board, Cory said. But if we can get them from the applicant in PDF form well be OK.
Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said that having access to all of the documents being discussed will take the mystery out of public meetings.
"It relates to the frustration of people that attend meetings and can't follow what is going on. The board sitting at the front of the room refers to page two, fourth paragraph, and the audience doesn't have a clue what they're talking about," Freeman said. "This legislation will make the Open Meetings Law that much more meaningful."
The bill is an extension of the Open Meetings Law in Article 7 of the New York State Public Officers Law. It was passed by the Assembly and Senate in June and will go into effect on Feb. 2.
We have a month, but well get started on it right away, Cory said.
Cory noted that any town board or committee that meets and has formal documents is included in the law. She said that most everything gets posted but that there may be some minor inconsistencies with some of the lesser committees.
We will take a look at what we have up there and see what needs to be added, the town clerk said. Its not going to be a big deal for us.
Paulin, a former president of the Westchester County Chapter League of Women Voters, said her first-hand experiences with a lack of transparency at county board meetings inspired her to create the bill. She said that although most local governments do inform the public, some need an attitude change.
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