New York residents have a new advocate for open government.
Shoshanah Bewlay — a Vassar-educated lawyer, former general counsel for the state’s Office of Information and Technology Services, former agency records access officer, and longtime manager of the state Attorney General’s eDiscovery program — has been appointed as executive director of the state Committee on Open Government.
She replaces Robert Freeman, the legendary open government guru who was fired in disgrace in June over allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct.
“Open and transparent government is a priority of Governor Cuomo and I look forward to working with the Committee to continue to highlight the importance of the Freedom of Information, Open Meetings and Personal Privacy Protection Laws,” Bewlay said in a statement announcing her appointment Monday.
Bewlay has a challenging task ahead of her.
She’s works in a state with a long history of political corruption and secrecy. The era of electronic communication makes it more challenging to access records and easier for public officials to hide communications and records. The decline of local media and its ability to serve as effectively as government watchdogs as it did in the past has resulted in less direct oversight of government malfeasance when it comes to open government laws. And we’re living in a political atmosphere in which personal privacy is arm-wrestling against public disclosure.
She’ll also face the challenge of trying to maintain independence from the executive branch of state government run by a powerful governor. Freeman often clashed with leaders in his own government, yet had managed to maintain a healthy independence under both Republican and Democratic governors over several decades, in large part because of his popularity with the press and public due to his vigorous grassroots-level opposition to government secrecy.
As citizens, we must hope that Ms. Bewlay continues the strong tradition of the Committee on Open Government’s independence, advocacy for legislation that supports public disclosure and support for the public’s right to know.
Click here to read an article in LoHud for more on Bewlay’s appointment.