Public lands, public roads, public interest
Hikers coming to the Adirondacks in larger numbers, and the insufficiency of the park’s resources and infrastructure to properly handle the wave — that’s been one of the biggest news stories of the last few years. This summer, the problem has largely flared up along state Route 73, where the state implemented a roadside parking ban from Keene Valley to Chapel Pond and is planning to do more in the future. You’ve probably read about it, heard people talk about it — maybe experienced it yourself.
It’s arguably the most talked-about, newsworthy topic in the Adirondacks at present.
So when we heard from multiple people that the state was holding a big powwow with all kinds of Adirondack organizations to work on solving these problems along Route 73, we knew the public would have a huge interest in that. Our readers would want to know what kind of voices would be represented there, what kind of ideas were floated, which ones receive the most support, which ones are criticized and why. We had to be there.
We didn’t ask for permission. Our reporter Elizabeth Izzo just showed up at Keene Central School at the appointed time. If she had been turned away at the door, she would have left — she wouldn’t have snuck in — but she was simply asked her name and given a name tag. Inside, she talked to various officials, including some from the state Department of Environmental Conservation in charge of the event, and no one questioned her presence there.
Later, however, we were told the event was supposed to be closed to the media. At least one state official was angry our reporter was there. The meeting was for “stakeholders” — some 60 people representing 40 organizations including state agencies, town boards, environmental groups, outdoor groups, colleges and a philanthropy foundation.
We believe the public is also a stakeholder in this major issue involving public lands, public roads and public safety. that’s why we were there, representing thousands of readers.
It should be noted that closing the summit to the public does not appear to have violated New York’s Open Meetings Law. Reviewing the list of attendees, there did not seem to be a quorum (majority) of any body of elected officials. Every town board — even Keene, which is massively affected by this — and the Essex County board had a minority of members present. We would be surprised if that was not intentional.
Another state official explained that the reason the summit was supposed to be closed to reporters was so attendees could speak freely without fear of being quoted. We, on the other hand, think you can’t expect that kind of privacy at a state-organized summit of 40 organizations dealing with the biggest problem the region faces these days.
The issue is too big, and so is the event. You can’t expect to be “off the record” speaking at a town board meeting, and this is way more important to the public than that.
We don’t think summit participants really had anything to fear from a reporter covering the event. The meeting appeared to be generally well run and well received. Various perspectives were listened to. Our reporting reflected that.
Letting us do our job shows officials doing their job. If the public doesn’t see that through our reporting, their speculations can lead to false suspicions and rumors.
We understand that there are some times when it’s not necessary to invite the whole neighborhood to watch while public officials to hammer out early-stage public policy. But when dealing with dozens of stakeholders on matters of extraordinary public interest, it’s best for government to do business in the spirit of the opening of New York state’s Open Meetings Law, which reads as follows:
“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.”