A Push For Transparency Continues By NY Legislator

Originally published in Jamestown Post-Journal on August 02, 2021.

State Sen. Anna Kaplan, D-Carle Place, is continuing her push for more transparency for local governments.

Kaplan reintroduced a pair of bills last week. S.7305/A.8107 would amend the state Public Officers Law to require public bodies that maintain a website and use a high-speed internet connection to post a video recording of their open meetings within five business days of the meeting and to keep those recordings for at least five years. Kaplan also wants to use a wider definition of the boards the requirements would apply to by replacing the term “agency and authority” with public body so that more governments would fall under the state video recording requirement.

Kaplan initially introduced a version of the bill last August, but it needs to be reintroduced to be considered by the state Legislature during the upcoming legislative session.

“Currently, there is no deadline in the law as to how quickly such meetings must be posted, nor a set time frame that such recordings must be kept. They must simply be posted ‘within and for a reasonable time’ following a meeting. Since COVID-19 has hindered the ability of the public to attend open meetings in person, we must be sure to give opportunity for those who wish to view meetings to have ample access to such records in a timely manner. Also, public bodies are now streaming meetings, as has become the norm for so many during this time, so it is reasonable to impose these requirements,” Kaplan said in her legislative justification.

Companion legislation has been introduced by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale.

Kaplan and Paulin are also sponsoring S.7306/A.7355, which would remove language that allows governments not to provide documents to be discussed at open meetings to the public. State law includes the phrase “to the extent possible” which gives local governments leeway in which documents are made available to the public at meetings. Kaplan said in her legislative justification that the phrase created a loophole for agencies to bypass the document disclosure requirement.

COVID-19 has made it apparent that there is technology readily available for agencies to use in an effort to be more transparent,” Kaplan wrote.

Chautauqua County would meet part of Kaplan’s requirement despite its recent elimination of verbatim meeting minutes because the county livestreams meetings and makes most of its meeting materials available online before a meeting. The county currently plans to keep meeting videos available for at least a year, while Kaplan would require an additional four years of availability.

The city of Jamestown makes its agendas available before meetings and livestreams its meetings. The city also makes its meeting materials — complete with staff reports and recommendations — available before each meeting on the city’s website.