MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. – The agendas and supporting documents for most government meetings will have to be posted online at least a day in advance, according to a bill that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law this week.
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.
Paulin says she hopes this bill will promote the public’s 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 in a phone interview Wednesday.
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.
These items, along with 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.
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.
“I think in a lot of cases they are just arrogant that they don’t have to share certain information with the general public,” Paulin said. “They just think that the public doesn’t know that much or desire that much.”