Coalition claims town failed to provide meeting documents

Originally published in The Suffolk County News on June 02, 2021.

New legislation would require municipalities to upload docs 24 hours before meetings

The New York Coalition for Open Government has alleged that the Town of Islip failed to upload planning board meeting documents to its website in a timely manner, according to a new report.

The nonprofit organization, which consists of journalists, activists, media groups and others, published a report in May that studied how local planning boards across New York were following Open Meetings law. The study reviewed the websites of 22 town planning boards, with at least two from each of the nine regions across the state, excluding New York City.

New York State Open Meetings law requires that municipalities regularly update their websites and post meeting documents online prior to that meeting. However, a specific timeline for this action has not been established, New York Coalition for Open Government president Paul Wolf said.

Islip Town received a failing grade in the report, after the nonprofit found that the planning board meeting on March 24 had an agenda posted on the web, but supplemental documents were not available.

Further, the study found that 75 percent of planning boards reviewed were violating the Open Meetings law. The report states: “The only recourse is for organizations like ours to draw attention to these issues in an effort to advocate, inform and embarrass government officials to change how they are conducting the public’s business.”

However, a town spokesperson on Friday said that upon review, all documentation was posted for that meeting on the town website. Those documents are still accessible. Documents are posted the Friday before the meeting, the spokesperson added.

Roughly two to three volunteers reviewed town websites to inspect if they posted meeting documents in a timely manner. The information was then compiled into the report, Wolf said.

In response to the town’s claims, Wolf said that when the group reviewed the Islip Town website, the documents were not seen.

The agenda and site plans are currently available online. It’s unclear at this time if the documents were uploaded after the meeting. The New York Coalition for Open Government could not provide a screenshot of the missing documents online.

But a New York State bill sponsored by NYS Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-7th Senate District) could change that. The bill, which has already passed the Assembly, would amend public officer law to require documents be discussed at open meetings be made available upon request or posted on the public body’s website at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.

At a New York Coalition for Open Government press conference last month, Wolf said he anticipates that the legislation, currently under review by the Senate, will likely pass.

“I’m confident, with the unanimous passage in the Assembly, that we could do the same in the Senate. I think it would be hard to vote against this legislation, honestly,” Wolf said.