Last year, we were pleasantly surprised when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing judges to award legal costs to citizens who substantially prevail in their efforts to seek public records from reluctant government bodies.
Now let’s hope he and the Legislature keep the momentum going in 2018.
Scattered throughout the governor’s 375-page State of the State message Wednesday were proposals to make government officials more accountable and make the state’s laws more favorable to citizens seeking information.
One of the promising proposals would subject local officials to the same types of financial disclosure requirements as state officials are.
The governor rightly points out that local officials and “agents of municipalities” are equally prone to potential conflicts of interest. With access to this kind of information, citizens could learn where local officials might be favoring campaign contributors and where they’re getting outside sources of income that might conflict with their public duties.
The governor also is proposing reforms to the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The ideas he pitched aren’t new, like automatically posting certain public documents routinely sought by citizens online so they don’t have to expend the time, effort and expense of filing FOIL requests.
The governor also wants to fully subject the Legislature and government boards like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission to FOIL and the state Open Meetings Law. It’s absurd that they aren’t already fully covered.
We’ve already supported the governor’s initiative to force those who place campaign ads on digital media to disclose who paid for the ads and for internet companies to post a list of ad buyers.
In hopes of curbing sexual harassment, the governor has proposed prohibiting confidentiality agreements relating to sexual assault or harassment for public entities and branches of government at the state and local levels, and extending certain disclosure requirements to companies doing business with the state.
Citizens have a right to know what misdeeds their public officials are committing and how much tax money is being spent to cover it up.
It would have been more encouraging had the governor made these proposals the centerpiece of his efforts in 2018 instead of snippets in a long address.
But the fact that he included old and new proposals in his plan of action is encouraging. We can be optimistic that he’ll follow through. It is the start of a new year, after all.
Words are important. Actions, however, are what really count.