That’s the link to the state Committee on Open Government website.
On the site can be found copies of the state's Open Meetings Law and Freedom of Information Law, as well as advisory opinions from the head of the committee, Robert Freeman, and a lot of other helpful information detailing the obligation of New York’s governments to be transparent to the citizens they serve.
If you happen to have the email addresses of any members of Schenectady’s Planning Commission, please send them this link. It’s clear they need a refresher on the law.
In the latest round of absurdity regarding the approvals for the design of the new Rush casino in Schenectady, the city Planning Commission once again declared itself and its actions exempt from any of the state laws regarding open government.
You’ll remember last month, the commission met secretly with developers and architects in small groups — furtively skirting quorums required to trigger a public meeting — in order to expedite the reviews and approvals for the project.
Now, here we are, nearing the end of the local approval process, and the Planning Commission is still operating in the shadows when it comes to perhaps the most controversial part of the project design — the giant 80-foot-tall “pylon” that developers plan to erect along Erie Boulevard to light the way to the casino.
The “pylon” was approved as part of the overall casino site plan, but final approval is contingent on casino operators making changes to the colors and materials of the sign.
This tower will be among the tallest buildings in Schenectady and will be lit up with a 36-foot-tall electronic billboard that will be shining 24-7-365.
Yet the Planning Commission still thinks the public doesn't need to witness their deliberations on this aspect of the project.
First, City Planner Christine Primiano said the sign would be discussed by a subcommittee that would meet without notifying the public and without allowing the public to attend — both blatant violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law. (See link to website, above.)
Then when it appeared that idea wasn’t going to fly, we were told by the city’s attorney that the commissioners wouldn't actually meet about the sign at all. Apparently, they’ll just get copies of the updated versions. Somehow, perhaps by ouija board or Magic 8-Ball or mental telepathy or, perhaps, email or secret meeting, they'll do what they’ve done all along with this project — get out their rubber stamp and mark it “Approved.”
Somehow, like with the last set of not-quite-meetings, they’ll avoid the Open Meetings Law in spirit, if not in practice, and achieve their goal without exacting a peep of public opposition.
This cloak-and-dagger baloney might save a lot of time and inconvenience for the commission members. And it certainly helps the developer by moving the project along.
But it’s not the way our government is designed to operate — in full view of the citizens. If they're going to approve this thing, the public should at least be able to witness the deliberations and hear their justifications first-hand.
These shenanigans are getting way out of control. And if the public doesn't demand they stop, the commission will just keep doing it. And the sad thing is, you'll never even know it.