POUND RIDGE, 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 Pound Ridge is already ahead of the game.
The law, sponsored by state Assemblywoman 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 Joanne Pace said that since Pound Ridge developed its website more than two years ago, that town has doing almost exactly what Paulins bill requires.
Our rule has always been to publish the [town board] agenda the Tuesday before a Thursday meeting, she said. Plus, we send out an e-mail blast with the agenda attached for those who have signed up for that service at our website.
Pace said that the town has also been posting the minutes within two weeks after a meeting. She said the planning board has been following the same procedures.
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.
Pace said that posting supporting documents along with the agenda is the one thing in the new law that Pound Ridge hasnt been doing, but she said she will make preparations to comply.
The supporting documents would be typical things like local laws, she said.
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.
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.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.