Maybe you were one of those local governments lucky enough not to get picked by the New York Coalition for Open Government for scrutiny about how well they share information with their constituents.
But if you were put on the spot today to produce the information, what grade would your community get?
That’s the question every local government official should be asking themselves as they evaluate their relationship with the citizens they serve.
For the second time in about seven months, the nonpartisan activist coalition has issued a report card for randomly selected local governments on how well they scored when it comes to posting meeting minutes and recordings of meetings online, posting agendas and meeting documents, live-streaming meetings and allowing public comments during meetings.
In the latest report, the group selected a sample of nine villages out of 551 in the state, including Scotia, Cobleskill and Colonie in our area. Only two in the state got a grade of A – 100% compliance. Scotia and Colonie each got a grade of D, with a score of 65 each, and Cobleskill got an F, with a score of zero.
In the last snapshot survey conducted of 20 local governments in July, Rotterdam got an A, Saratoga Springs got a B and Amsterdam got a C.
If you’re a local government official, you should check your website to see what kind of grade your community would get.
The answer will reveal how well you communicate with your citizens in terms of how you alert them to meetings, how much access they have to government proceedings, and how much information you share with them so they can make the best of the opportunity to question and evaluate the job that local government is doing.
If you’re not even posting agendas prior to meetings, then it appears you don’t want the public to know what you’re planning to discuss at them.
If you’re not posting minutes afterward, then you’re excluding citizens who didn’t attend your meeting from knowing what actions you might have taken.
If you’re not allowing people to speak at your meetings (which isn’t required under the law, but is highly recommended), then it appears you’re unwilling to answer tough questions from your constituents on the record while others are watching.
If you’re not even doing the basics to keep your citizens informed, then you should be questioning why you’re not. And if you’re a citizen, you should be wondering what they’re trying to hide by keeping this information from you.
If you’re a town, city, village or county official, just take a few minutes this weekend to review your government body’s website and see if it could pass the test.
If it can’t, then you have an obligation as a public servant to do something about it.