New York journalists and good-government advocates woke up Tuesday to some shocking news — that Robert Freeman, the longtime head of the state Committee on Open Government and a state and national leader on the issue of government transparency — had been fired over allegations he sexually harassed a female reporter.
The news was shocking because many of us who had worked with Freeman over many years had no inkling of his proclivities.
But we learned in the days after his firing that his conduct wasn’t such a secret to some female reporters he encountered.
Our hearts go out to all the women with whom he had inappropriate contact for the humiliation and stress they endured. No individual should be subject to harassment of any kind.
And no matter how respected, helpful or beloved the individual doing the harassing is, when verifiable allegations come to light, that person should be removed from his employment.
That’s what the state did with Freeman. It was, from all reports, the appropriate action to take. It’s only a shame that other women endured similar mistreatment before he was removed.
For residents of New York, they will lose an important resource in the fight against closed government.
But public servants come and go. And there are plenty of people out there working to ensure government remains transparent and accessible.
They’re working in local newspapers and in news organizations like the New York News Publishers Association.
They’re working in good-government groups like the Empire Center, Reinvent Albany, Citizens Union and other organizations.
Many public officials and individual citizens fight daily for open government at the state, county and local levels.
We’re hopeful that whomever is hired to replace Freeman is knowledgeable, dedicated and helpful to journalists, public officials and citizens.
With Freeman’s departure, we must all redouble our efforts to keep New York’s government open and accessible.
There is plenty of legislation to fight for. Plenty of loopholes in the law to close. Too many public officials who still disrespect the public’s right to know and who actively take steps to undermine it.
We must continue to demand that government officials honor and respect the laws.
That mission doesn’t change with the departure of one individual.
No matter who it is.