A state open government advocacy group is scheduled to issue a report and make recommendations tomorrow about political causes held by local government legislators, such as those held regularly in Allegany County, which, it claims, “make the public meeting a sham as the real discussion has already occurred in private.”
The New York Coalition for Open Government will release its latest report, Secret Meetings Make the Open Meetings Law a Sham, at an 11AM Thursday press conference, which will include requests for state legislation to change the law, in place since 1985, which permits such activities.
Allegany County legislators regularly meet twice a month, generally for about a half hour, in announced caucuses prior to their board sessions.
It isn’t known whether any others are held on or off-premises in Allegany County, in addition to executive or attorney-client relationship meetings often held and which Allegany Hope has questioned from time-to-time as to legality of specific sessions.
Background about the issue
The Coalition, in a press release reporting tomorrow’s press briefing, says:
“There are secret local government meetings occurring all across New York State, where public business is being discussed. No notice is provided for these meetings, there are no meeting minutes, the public and news media are not allowed to attend.
“Due to a law passed by the state legislature in 1985, these secret meetings are legal and not a violation of the Open Meetings Law. Elected members of the same political party are allowed to hold a private political caucus meeting, where they can discuss political party business and public business.
“The political party in control of a public body can hold a private meeting, bring in staff and department heads, run through the night’s public meeting agenda and work everything out before the public meeting occurs.
“These secret meetings, make the public meeting a sham as the real discussion has already occurred in private.
“The whole point of the Open Meetings Law is that public business be performed in an open manner so that citizens can observe the performance of elected officials by being able to attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that result in public policy.
“There is an interesting history of what caused the state legislature to allow for such secret meetings, which is explained in our report.
“Below is an example of how these secret meetings work at the local level.
Chemung County example of alleged abuse
In a 2019 blog post, Christina Sonsire, a Chemung County Legislator wrote about how caucus meetings occur there:
“ ‘The Chemung County Legislature’s Republican Caucus, comprised of 12 out of 15 sitting Legislators, has held six ‘political caucuses”, each lasting approximately one hour and held before and/or after meetings of the Legislature. During these gatherings numerous topics – including the 2020 Chemung County Budget, Elmira’s First Arena, and Chemung County’s relationship with the Library District – have been discussed at length.
” ‘In other words, 12 of 15 Legislators have spent no less than six hours over the past month addressing public business behind closed doors where even elected members of the Legislature, including me, are unable to attend or even know what is being discussed.
Nothing could be less transparent.’
“The time has come to eliminate these secret meetings and our report contains recommendations on how to do that,” according to Williamsville attorney Paul Wolf, president of the state coalition.
Allegany Hope is a member of the Coalition. It is unknown whether Allegany County will be cited specifically in the report.
The press conference will be accessible to the public on Zoom at https://bit.ly/3wrfzX8, livestreamed on Facebook at https://bit.ly/3kJlPqN, with the report, along with others which it has created in regard to ongoing open government violations, being posted to its website at http://bit.ly/3ZZQJLz.