The most important traits for any municipality are to be efficient, care about the people of the community, make good decisions with taxpayer money and to be open about all transactions.
As a newspaper, we are especially keen on that last attribute. People who govern need to remember that they are working for the taxpayers of the community. They have been entrusted to make smart decisions, and all their work should be open for public inspection.
To ensure that, the leaders of local communities should do everything they can to make information accessible. Today, that means the Internet.
It isn’t good enough to make documents available at the clerk’s office. We all know that few citizens will take the time to show up in person to request information.
The state of New York has provided a new way for municipalities to share economic-development, recreation, health and public-services information: a website called open.ny.gov.
So far, 69 communities across the state have signed up to participate in this open-government option. Sadly, only seven governmental bodies from the North Country are among them.
The area honor roll is: Clinton County, Essex County, Franklin County, Town of Chesterfield, Town of Minerva, Town of Plattsburgh and Village of Saranac Lake. All have taken the steps necessary to make information available to anyone interested, though it will begin to appear online on a rolling basis.
The City of Plattsburgh and most towns and villages in the North Country are negligent in not having immediately signed up to share their data through this eminently useful website.
When the site was launched, Essex County was one of five localities that had already started sharing data on the website, the others being Oneida, Onondaga and Suffolk counties and the City of Albany. Within three more days, 15 counties, 22 cities, 25 towns and seven villages had joined up.
The New York State Office of Information Technology Services stands ready to help any governmental bodies that want to participate. All they need to do is send an email to email@example.com.
The information on the website is of use to more than curious citizens. Government boards and agencies can use it to research similar communities, yielding comparisons that will help them make more informed decisions.
It also means municipality staff will spend less time responding to Freedom on Information Law requests filed in clerks’ offices. The data posted on open.ny.gov has to be provided, by law, to anyone who asks for it; why not be sure it is accessible to everyone from the comfort of their homes or offices?
Governmental bodies should not be fearful of transparency; they should embrace openness because it is the public’s right in America.