We should expect more of local governments, school boards

This week, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law that will require “public bodies,” like town, village and school boards, to post meeting minutes — or a copy of any recording made of their meeting — online within two weeks of a meeting happening.

That’s good news for every taxpayer.

Before this bill was signed, local governments and school boards weren’t required to post meeting minutes online. Look on the town of North Elba’s website, and the last council meeting minutes available, as of Tuesday, were from July. The town of Jay’s last posted meeting minutes are from August. The town of Wilmington had no meeting minutes posted online, as of Tuesday. Other municipalities and boards — the villages of Tupper Lake, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake; the towns of Harrietstown, Keene and St. Armand; the Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake school boards — have either current, or fairly recent, meeting minutes posted online.

To be clear, before this bill was signed, one could visit their local village, town or district office and request meeting minutes in person. Local governments and school boards were already required to have those meeting minutes available, if requested, 14 days after a meeting.

By requiring that these minutes be posted online, it’s making the operations of local governments and school boards that much more accessible. It’s making it that much easier to hold elected officials accountable.

That isn’t to say there’s nothing to improve upon: The New York Coalition for Open Government says it believes public bodies should be required to post both written minutes and video or audio recordings, to make sure the hearing impaired can have easy access to minutes, too. We agree.

The bottom line: This is a step in the right direction, but we should expect more from our local governments and school boards.

Yes, internet can be slow, spotty or nonexistent depending on where you live. Yes, town clerks, district clerks and others tasked with putting together these minutes have plenty of responsibilities on their hands already, and it’s understandable why posting minutes online may fall by the wayside. Almost every single clerk, locally, is quick to provide minutes when asked. But we’ve seen throughout the coronavirus pandemic that local governments and school boards do have the ability to make their work more accessible via the internet. Elected officials pivoted to livestreaming meetings or hosting virtual meetings fairly quickly, and we believe that practice should continue.

Meeting minutes, meeting recordings and agendas should be as accessible as possible. State lawmakers should ensure that every taxpayer, including those who are hearing impaired, can access these things online. If the state doesn’t require it, local governments and school boards should strive to post all of these things online anyway. This is just one way local governments and school boards can be more transparent.


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