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Time to follow the Open Meetings Law

Public bodies can charge a reasonable fee for copies of the meeting material. However, by posting them online, they will save money.

Unfortunately, there are many boards who are not following the amendment’s website requirement:

“If the agency in which a public body functions maintains a regularly and routinely updated website and utilizes a high speed Internet connection, such records shall be posted on the website to the extent practicable as determined by the agency or the department, prior to the meeting.”

This is where many boards are failing. And they’re hiding behind the words “to the extent practicable.”

When asked about this language during the New York Press Association conference in the spring of 2012, Committee on Open Government Executive Director Robert Freeman answered a Denton Publications editor with a question: “Can you place it on your website?” The answer was “yes.” Therefore, it is practicable for all boards to do so, he asserted.

Public boards are also hiding behind the language that makes this an unfunded mandate:

“An agency may, but shall not be required to, expend additional moneys to implement the provisions of this subdivision.”

Therefore, some say they will not post meeting material online because it will require them to redesign their websites, and that costs money.

Wrong. If the public body updates its own website, it doesn’t cost extra money, just extra time. Some towns, however, have outside firms manage their websites, and updates do cost money. But that should be considered regular maintenance. You don’t have to redesign your website to post meeting material.

Hallmarks of website posting for their meetings include the City of Glens Falls, Village of Saranac Lake and Johnsburg Central School.

As for the other public entities, we’re keeping an eye on you. When we follow up on this topic, we hope all boards will be complying with the law.

For more information about the Open Meetings law, visit www.dos.ny.gov/coog.

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