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Some local gov’t officials worried about meeting document law

January 26, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

A new law set to go into effect Feb. 2 is meant to improve government transparency, but some local officials are worried it might put a strain on their time and resources.

At local government meetings, board members often have discussions about documents that only they have access to at the time of the meeting.

"Although members of the public are present at the meeting, they are unable to observe the proceedings in a meaningful way," reads the justification section for the new law.

The law, an added provision to the state Open Meetings Law, asks local governments for proactive disclosure, making any documents to be discussed in a meeting available to the public before the meeting. The original intent was to require governing bodies to post the documents online, but due to concerns that it would be a burden on local governments - some of which don't have websites or the capacity to post documents on them - the law was softened to only require them to make them available if requested. Paper copies can be issued if posting them online isn't an option.

The village of Saranac Lake already goes beyond the law, posting all its meeting documents and agenda online, generally the Friday before its regular Monday meetings. Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said it started when he went to a few board meetings before he took office and found that people, including board members, weren't familiar with what was being discussed in the meeting. So when he took over, he implemented the new policy.

"So when they get to the meeting, they're informed, and they don't have to raise their hand and say, 'What's this mean? What's it all about?' They already know before they get going."

Harrietstown Supervisor Larry Miller said his town's clerk has always been good about sending out agendas ahead of time, but the board hasn't sent out the other documents to be discussed at meetings. He said last week he wasn't yet familiar with the new law, but it sounded like it would add expense to the town.

"I mean, we put a lot of stuff on the agenda, and it's pages and pages of stuff, so it'll definitely be an added expense, especially if a lot of people want the information," Miller said.

Laurie Fuller, Tupper Lake's town clerk, said she doesn't finalize the town board's agendas until late in the day Friday in advance of the board's regular Monday meetings. That means she wouldn't be able to make much available before late Friday anyway.

The town has a page on the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce's website set up for it, but Fuller said she doesn't use it and she doesn't think anyone else at the town posts to it either.

She said she doesn't think it would be a problem to make paper copies of the documents available to people ahead of time if they so request them, though.

Tupper Lake village Clerk Mary Casagrain said it might be tough for her to keep up with making extra copies of meeting documents.

"I understand it; it's just honestly going to be difficult for me," Casagrain said. "It's another mandate that creates additional time. We don't have excess personnel."

She also said it would be hard to make the documents available online. The village doesn't really use the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce website, and it has a contract for its scanner/copier equipment that includes a charge for each item scanned.

That being said, she said her office has never denied anyone who asked for documents.

"It's certainly something we're looking at," Casagrain said.

At a recent meeting of the Tupper Lake village board, Trustee Rick Donah suggested looking into creating a new website for the village. Some board members were resistant, but Donah said he would keep researching the idea. He also said he'd look at the village of Saranac Lake's website to see how they post meeting documents.

Saranac Lake village Clerk Kareen Tyler said the way she does it, it doesn't cost the village anything.

"If anything, I think it saves me a lot of work because people don't call as often for the agenda; people don't call for copies of things," Tyler said.

Once she assembles the packet of documents board members will discuss at a meeting, she scans them all into the village's copy machine, then turns it into a PDF document on her computer. She sends that to the board members and to someone at the village office who posts it to the website,

She's been with the village for 11 years, and she's been pleased with the new policy that she's been doing for the last two years.

"It's actually made things easier for me at no expense to the taxpayers," Tyler said.



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