With Public Meetings Banned — New York Coalition for Open Government Calls to Keep the People Part of the Process

Editor’s Note: Some area local and county governments have already found their way to instituting the changes recommended by this organization.  Some have not yet adjusted, as this emergency was as sudden for our local governments as it was to our individual lives. 

This press release appears to be a call to get all local governments on board with these protocols as to maintain a fully transparent and democratic process.

The New York Coalition for Open Government, (formerly known as the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government), calls upon local government officials to keep the public fully informed and engaged during these emergency times. The New York Coalition for Open Government is a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing open government issues at the local and state level.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic public attendance at local government meetings has been banned. Local governments across the state of New York are conducting public business by way of video meetings.

In this time of emergency, it is important that the public be kept fully informed as to the actions being taken by their elected officials and that citizens can provide their input at local government meetings.

Steps that local government officials can take to keep the public informed and involved are:

  1. Posting meeting agendas and meeting documents online – Even before the Coronavirus many local governments were not posting meeting documents online for the public to see. The public should be able to view the same documents elected officials have before them at a meeting. The entire packet of information that elected officials have before them should be posted online several days before a meeting occurs. Watching elected officials conduct a meeting by video without being able to view meeting documents is unacceptable.
  • Meetings Should be Live Streamed and Recordings Posted Online – Governmentmeetings are now being conducted by video which the public should be able to view live or to watch later. Government websites should make it clear where the public must go to watch meetings. The technology that is available through Zoom, Facebook, Skype etc. is readily accessible and not difficult to manage.
  • Public Comments Should Be Solicited During Meetings: Prior to the Coronavirus most public bodies, but not all provided the opportunity for citizens to address agenda items and general community concerns. Public comments typically have a time limit of several minutes.

While meetings are being conducted through video, efforts should be made to obtain public comments in real time. Many local governments during this emergency have eliminated providing the public the opportunity to be heard, which is unacceptable.

Public comments can occur during a meeting in real time by:

– reading email submissions.

– providing a telephone number for comments to be made by telephone.

– just as elected officials appear by video so can members of the public.

– Chat or Facebook comments

  • Timely Posting of Meeting Minutes – Posting meeting minutes as soon as possible, after a meeting occurs is important for keeping the public informed. Minutes should ideally be posted within two weeks of a meetings occurrence and definitely before the next meeting occurs.

“In the best of times ensuring that government operates in an open and transparent way is often difficult. In an emergency it is even more important for local governments to do everything they can to provide information to the public and to hear from their citizens”, said Paul Wolf, Esq., President of the New York Coalition for Open Government.

For more information about the New York Coalition for Open Government, visit www.nyopengov.org.

You can also visit them on Facebook: