May 27, 2014

Editorial: The legacy of George Poitras

It is unusual for the Press-Republican to devote an editorial to the achievements of a recently deceased North County citizen, for fear of giving too much weight to the contributions of one individual and none to others who are equally deserving.

We’re departing from that practice in the case of George H. Poitras, however, because we think it’s important that readers recognize at least one legacy he leaves behind: open government.

Poitras was a member of the Plattsburgh Common Council for 16 years, from 1974 through ‘89. Coincidentally, in 1974, the New York State Legislature passed and the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Subsequently, it passed a more refined version, and in 1976 approved another law specifying which meetings must be open to the public.

The state was taking action to make government more accessible to the public.

But Plattsburgh actually needed no such laws, thanks to George Poitras. He was known in that era as the reporter’s best friend, because, even though open government was a new concept and not one embraced by all members of public bodies, Poitras would have nothing of the secrecy that until then had shrouded much of what went on in city halls and other local governments.

He always conducted himself in a casual, unflappable manner, and he was never cowed by either the import of the business at hand or by what he regarded as unproductive secrecy by his colleagues or by the mayor.

Plattsburgh’s mayor in those days was the Rev. Roland St. Pierre, a Roman Catholic priest who sometimes governed as if presiding over his flock. He would often tell a reporter he didn’t want something in the paper, only to see it the next day because the reporter and Poitras had talked it over and torn open the shroud.

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