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Many municipalities take vow to be open

March 19, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

This Sunshine Week, we send mountains of thanks and praise to the town, village and county boards around the Tri-Lakes area that passed resolutions offering support for open government in general.

We got the draft resolution from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the national group that promotes Sunshine Week, and passed it on to leaders of every municipality we cover: Essex and Franklin counties, all three Tri-Lakes villages, the Franklin County towns of Harrietstown, Tupper Lake, Brighton, Franklin and Santa Clara, and all 18 towns in Essex County - there's a feature on the county website that lets someone e-mail all the supervisors at once.

By sending it to all these municipalities equally, we were not picking on any of them, suggesting they were worse than others at open-government principles. The idea was positive reinforcement and a public reminder - a promise of "this we believe."

It's no secret that some of these municipalities have had transparency problems that the Enterprise has exposed. All three villages and the town of Tupper Lake have held secret meetings, perhaps not realizing they were breaking the law but still not giving the people they serve the fair and legally required opportunity to observe government in action. While the matters discussed at those particular meetings don't seem to have been inflammatory, in principle we have to guard against such infractions. If government bodies get used to acting this way, the next time they might do dirty work behind closed doors.

Even our local government leaders who have erred from time to time say they still believe in open government, and we have no reason to doubt that. Still, since the role of open-government watchdog in this area falls to the Enterprise, we figured it would be a good idea to use Sunshine Week and the ASNE's resolution to get everyone on the same page.

Not all the municipalities we sent it to have passed it yet, and one town board even voted it down - Harrietstown, with Supervisor Larry Miller as the only "aye." The town councilmen said they don't need a resolution because they already act on these principles. In their defense, we agree that they have done so, to the best of our knowledge.

"If there's a village, town or county board that's not being forthcoming, maybe they should have to pass such a resolution," Councilmen Jim Murnane said at the meeting. "But I don't think it's necessary for us to do so. My take is that when we all got elected to office, we pledged to do this."

Still, we wish the councilmen would reconsider. We see no reason to reject an open-government commitment.

And now, with no further ado, here are the municipalities that we know did pass a version of the resolution:

-Franklin County

-Essex County

-Village of Saranac Lake

-Town of North Elba

-Town of Jay

-Town of Chesterfield

-Town of Moriah.

If we left out any that passed it or if a local municipality passes this resolution in the future, please let us know and we'll thank them in a future editorial.



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