Citizens have the right to open government and to the information their governments have.
Sometimes we all need to be reminded of that core constitutional principal, and we need to remind our elected, appointed and hired public servants at all levels — from Washington, D.C., to our local villages — that they don’t own their jobs or the information and processes they use to do those jobs. Data collected and information obtained with taxpayer money, for use by elected officials and bureaucrats, is the property of the taxpayers, not the bureaucrats or their elected or appointed bosses.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the annual Sunshine Week — an initiative to raise awareness of the importance of open government and freedom of information, this year March 11-17 — to announce a new web portal that might go far in satisfying the public’s need for and access to the information and data it owns.
Open.ny.gov is the URL address of the new website, which provides user-friendly, one-step access to data collected by state agencies, local municipalities and authorities and the federal government. The site features economic development, health, recreation and public services information. It was launched specifically during Sunshine Week, the governor said, to “raise awareness about the importance of open government.”
The governor signed an executive order directing all state agencies to aggregate information and put it on the site. He cannot, however, order counties, towns or villages to do the same.
Several counties and cities, including Suffolk County, had already signed on to provide data to the public through the website at its inception. Within three days of the launch, Nassau County and the City of Long Beach joined them. Nonetheless, while some 25 towns and several villages have signed on, the Town of Hempstead has not.
Susan Trenkle-Pokalsky, the town’s spokeswoman, told the Herald that the town was never asked to join the governor’s web portal. “We were not aware of the website,” Trenkle-Pokalsky said, “but now that we are aware of it, we will take a look and consider perhaps signing on.”