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What you need to know for 01/21/2017

League of Women Voters asks for end to Schenectady County caucuses

League of Women Voters asks for end to Schenectady County caucuses

The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County wants the county Legislature to stop meeting behind

The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County wants the county Legislature to stop meeting behind closed doors.

At Tuesday’s Legislature meeting, league member Helga Schroeter read a league-approved statement objecting to the county’s decades-long practice of having multiple parties meet in closed caucuses.

“We would like to comment on the issue of holding party caucuses with more than one political party involved — i.e. in this case the Democratic and the Conservative party members of the Legislature,” she said, reading from the statement she and member Maxine Borom both signed. “This is really stretching the rules and the spirit of the open meetings laws very far, if not close to breaking the law.”

The 13-member majority caucus has 10 Democrats and three Conservatives; the minority caucus has two Republicans. Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said last month the meetings violate the state Open Meetings Law because they include more than one political party and a majority of the Legislature.

Schroeter stressed Wednesday the practice would be wrong regardless of which parties were meeting in caucus. When the Republicans held the majority before 2003, Conservatives often joined them in caucus.

The county League of Women Voters describes itself as a nonpartisan political organization.

“It’s not picking at a particular party,” she said. “It’s more about the right of the public to have things being done transparently.”

Gary Hughes, the Legislature’s Democratic majority leader, dismissed the organization’s concerns.

“They’re a great organization and we value their contributions, but I think in this particular case their concern is somewhat unfounded,” he said. “I don’t think there’s much of anything that would contribute to public understanding that happens in a caucus that doesn’t ultimately get discussed on the floor of the Legislature.”

He said the bulk of the Legislature’s discussions take place during committee meetings on the first Monday of the month, and those meetings are open to the public.

The Legislature hasn’t met in caucus since a Gazette article drew attention to the issue in early July, he said.

“They aren’t that frequent,” he said.

Schroeter, however, said in the statement her organization “believes in the best possible transparency so the voting public can draw meaningful conclusions on what appears to be the best course of action.”

“Therefore, we urge the county Legislature to apply the most stringent interpretation of the law for the benefit of the citizens and their ability to evaluate the decisions made by the Legislature and to cast their votes according to individual choices.”

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