If government officials are planning on a major technological overhaul of your city that includes rewiring for wi-fi , installing surveillance cameras on telephone poles and installing special lighting, don't you think the people affected by all this — the citizens of that city — should be involved in the planning process from soup to nuts?
You would, unless you're the city of Schenectady, whose major foray into creating a "Smart City" is doing a Dumb City thing by deciding right off the bat to hold its meetings in secret.
There are so many important issues directly affecting the citizens that need to be discussed regarding this project — from cost, to scope and size of the projects, to the bidding process, to changes to city infrastructure, to privacy concerns and public access — that the citizens need to be involved from the start.
But no. Committee leaders are taking the standard government line whenever they want to operate in secret that they can operate the committee more efficiently without the public watching their every move. They say they'll be discussing potential projects and business deals that might be better kept hush-hush until they're ready to reveal them.
Those cameras will be pointed at citizens. How can the citizens trust that the committee is acting in their best interests if they're being kept in the dark?
Even better for the secrecy advocates, they've got the law on their side this time. Since this Smart City Advisory Committee isn't officially a government body — only an advisory board to the mayor — it's not subject to the state's Open Meetings Law. They don't have to announce meetings, don't have to hold them in public, don't have to take minutes, and don't have to release any records.
But by that same token, they're not required to meet in secret, either. They can, if they want to, opt to follow the Open Meetings and Freedom of Information Laws. They just opt not to.
What they could do, and what they should do, is act as if they are a public body. When they have legitimate reasons to go behind closed doors, such as to discuss potential contracts or litigation, they can do so by following the Open Meetings Law, which lists specific situations in which government bodies can hold closed-door executive sessions. If they have records or other documents that are protected by the law's privacy regulations, they can keep them private and no one will make a fuss.
That's the way this should be handled.
Every single thing this committee does will affect the people of Schenectady for many years into the future. And as such, the people of Schenectady should be involved and informed every step of the way. Holding its meetings in public would go a long way toward that end.
That would be the smart to do.