Press-Republican

December 11, 2011

Editorial: Expand access to information


Press-Republican

---- — A state bill we endorsed months ago, enhancing the public's access to local and state government, has been passed by both houses of the legislature but has not been acted on by Gov. Cuomo. We strongly encourage him to enact this bill in the interests of making people ever closer to the activities and actions of governments designed to serve them.

The bill would require that certain records, scheduled to be the subject of discussion at an open meeting, be made available before or at the meeting. In an effort not to impose too heavily on the government, the bill is worded to specify that the records be made available "to the extent practicable."

It could hardly be less burdensome to the government, and it would add an important weapon to the public's ability to make government accountable.

The bill would even allow the government itself to determine what is "practicable." If that isn't intentionally unintrusive, we can't imagine what unintrusive would be.

The records could be made available by paper or on the government's website. That surely cannot be too much to ask of any agency or department. On the contrary, it could have the positive effect, from the government's point of view, of reducing or eliminating time-consuming Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.

We fear that Cuomo's failure to sign this innocuous piece of legislation already betokens a reluctance on his part to do so, and we wonder why. Surely, no good can be accomplished by standing in the way of the public sharing in the conduct of government at any level.

We would prefer to believe the governor has simply not gotten around to signing it yet, and we would urge him to not let this opportunity for public inclusion in government to slip by him.

Peru Central School Board has proven that it is possible to fulfill the directives of this law. The board has, for years now, provided packets of documents, letters and other information related to topics to be discussed. These are available to members of the public who attend meetings. Press-Republican reporters and members of the public have found this to be extremely helpful in understanding the topics under discussion.

The State Committee on Open Government, whose executive director, Robert J. Freeman, has been to Plattsburgh many times to tout the benefits and conduits of full disclosure by any government agency or department, strongly supports this bill.

Failure to enact it into law would amount to a rebuke of that committee and, more importantly, to the public whose business is being conducted.

Cost has been eliminated as a factor, since there is no expense involved in posting documents on a government's website. And so has employee time, as the bill expressly notes that the posting would be required "to the extent practicable."

We believe that failure by the governor to sign this bill would send a very harmful — and misleading, we hope — message that he does not take seriously the public's right to fully participate in its government.

The bill must be signed.