With the gridlock in Washington, and the latest scandal involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s alleged meddling in the work of the commission he created to help root out corruption in Albany, it’s too easy to think that “government” — and government shenanigans — are something far away, either up the Hudson or down I-95.
But government is as near as your local school board, zoning board or village board, the Town of Hempstead council or the County Legislature. Indeed, the decisions made by your elected representatives at the school district, village, town and county levels often have way more to do with your everyday lives, and pocketbooks, than the laws passed in either capital.
And those local boards and councils can sometimes be as guilty of improper behavior as public officials at higher levels. Just because local trustees are our neighbors doesn’t make them less human, more perfect or less tempted to sin than the rest of us. The fact that they have less experience with the process and rules for getting things done than state and federal officials actually explains how it’s even easier for our local boards to get into trouble.
To help them do their jobs properly, and to make sure the people’s interests are served effectively, transparently and in good faith, New York’s Department of State created the Committee on Open Government. It is responsible for ensuring that the laws governing open meetings, freedom of information and the public’s right to know what all levels of state government are doing are followed.
The Open Meetings Law is there for local officials’ protection and guidance as much as it is for the community’s welfare.