EDITORIAL: Boards on notice: Law requiring 24-hour posting of meeting documents takes effect Thursday

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If you’ve ever attended a public meeting of a government body, you can recall sitting in the audience while board members at the table up front discussed documents and reports and photos, and you had no idea what they were talking about.

It’s like they had their own special information all to themselves while they made decisions on your behalf. And it’s yet another way government bodies could operate in secret while doing so in plain sight.

That is until today.

A new law signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul last month takes effect today (Nov. 18) that requires public bodies to now post on their website or provide upon request — at least 24 hours before any public meeting — any documents that will be discussed or considered during those public meetings.

The small but important change applies to all state and local governments and their departments, agencies, authorities and other public bodies. It includes, but is not limited to, agendas, legislation, resolutions, reports, applications, statements, drawings, maps and photos.

With very limited exceptions, citizens are entitled to the same information their elected officials are using to make decisions.

Local government bodies should have no problem meeting this new minimum standard. If a government staff member can make copies of documents to be discussed at meetings, that same staff member can post those documents online and print some out.

We can foresee a situation in which documents are filed with a government body within 24 hours of a meeting and the government board can’t legitimately post the information online before then. But for most documents discussed by boards, that emergency situation shouldn’t come into play.

In fact, the 24-hour window is only the least amount of time the board has to post the documents. If the documents are ready 48 hours or 72 hours or two weeks before a meeting, they should be posted then.

The more time the citizens have to review public documents, the more informed they can be about the issues, the more intelligent questions they can ask of board members, and the more time they can have to prepare opposition or support for a particular resolution based on those documents.

Governments have an obligation to be open and honest with the citizens they represent.

Sharing documents with them 24 hours prior to discussing those documents at meetings is a very low bar to hurdle.

Government officials should be aware of this law going into effect today and start posting and distributing documents immediately and regularly.

And citizens should be aware of this law going into effect today so that in case their representatives aren’t complying, they can call them out on it and demand their rightful access.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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