Report: 73% of polls defied transparency laws | Top story

Legislative leaders are examining potential reforms to enforce freedom of information and open assembly laws after a majority of New York County electoral councils failed to respect details to ensure transparency, released report says Tuesday by a group of good government.

The coalition selected 19 of the largest counties in the state’s 10 regions to assess their electoral councils’ compliance with the state’s freedom of information and open assembly laws, determining the effectiveness and timeliness of response and provided resources.

Respect for one or the other law within municipal electoral commissions is minimal, the coalition noted.

Ten electoral councils provided meeting minutes: Broome, Dutchess, Erie, Jefferson, Monroe, Nassau, Oneida, Onondaga, Schenectady and Suffolk counties – a success rate of 53%.

“Just a terrible and terrible response from the election commissions of the state electoral commissions in regards to the FOIL requests that have been sent,” New York Coalition for Open Government Chairman Paul Wolf said Tuesday. .

The coalition contacted the electoral councils of the counties of Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Dutchess, Erie, Herkimer, Jefferson, Monroe, Nassau, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Oswego, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Suffolk, Tompkins and Westchester .

The coalition submitted four questions both by email and phone to request information on when election commissioners meet, whether the public is notified of meetings, whether agendas and documents are publicly posted online. and whether the minutes are kept and also posted on the agency’s website.

“From that attempt, which was made through phone calls or emails, we got a pretty bad response,” Wolf said.

Sixty-five percent of boards contacted by email or phone did not respond to the coalition.

The coalition submitted requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act on July 14 – which 73% of selected electoral councils failed to acknowledge within five working days, as required by law.

The coalition filed a second FOIL request on August 18 after the wrong response, requesting identical information.

Albany, Chautauqua, Niagara, Ontario, St. Lawrence and Tompkins counties did not respond to any requests, or a failure rate of 32%.

Dutchess and Suffolk counties are acknowledging receipt of the second request within a day of failing to respond to the first last July.

Broome and Jefferson Counties did not acknowledge any of FOIL’s requests, but responded with the information.

State election law requires county election commissions to meet at least once a year to determine which commissioner will serve as president and secretary.

Monroe County provided the information on Jan. 7 – nearly six months after the initial request.

No entity exists in New York to enforce freedom of information laws for open meetings. Without such an agency, municipalities and state agencies that violate either law will not suffer consequences.

“All we can do is try to embarrass people to try to comply with the law,” Wolf said. “Frankly, we are tired of releasing report after report of non-compliance. The time has really come to create an entity with enforcement powers.

Representatives from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office said they would review the recommendations. Hochul continues to stress that transparency and more ethical governance are a pillar of his administration, which began on August 24.

The chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, Senator Alessandra Biaggi, D-Bronx, did not immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday.

The coalition made a list of suggestions for improving government transparency in the state, including creating a state entity to enforce consequences for municipalities that violate either law, requiring that the State Council of Elections train all municipal electoral officers on FOIL and Open Meetings laws, amend state law to clarify that county electoral commissioners are mandated to conduct business at public meetings, require that election commissioners deliberate on electoral matters in public and mandate election commissions to live stream their meetings and post recordings online thereafter.

The suggestions will be sent to legislative leaders in the coming days, Wolf said. The coalition will also be in touch with senators and members of the Assembly of Ethics and Election Committees to propose legislation to make the changes happen this session.

The report will be sent to the 19 electoral councils of the counties included.


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