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Larchmont Welcomes Tighter Laws on Agendas, Minutes

LARCHMONT, N.Y. – Dan Natchez, along with any interested resident, will be able to access the agendas and supporting documents for most government meetings 24 hours in advance starting Feb. 2, when a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo goes into effect.

The new law has some local municipal officials vowing to change their town's practices, which Natchez thinks is “great.”

"That's all part of open government, and that's what should be done, and the fact is we don't do it," said Natchez, a Village of Mamaroneck resident. "Sometimes it takes many weeks if not months to get minutes. Most of the backup information on most agenda items isn't there and there's really no reason why it can't be."

In both the Village of Larchmont and Town of Mamaroneck, agendas are posted online five days in advance, but will now have to provide the back-up documents that officials, like town council member Ernie Odierno, often refer to during meetings.

"Most people have no idea what we're looking at, but by sharing that information before the meetings you know exactly what we're considering," he said.

Christina Battalia, town clerk, said it will take some tweaking but that the town has been striving to provide as much information as possible. "I think it's just good government," she said. "Essentially, you'll be able to see the information that the board is discussing prior to the meetings."

The law , sponsored by state Assembly member Amy Paulin (D – District 88), requires records, resolutions, laws, or all matters to be discussed at an open meeting be made available for review by the public. If they are not, the public will have a right to sue the government agency.

Paulin said she hopes this bill will promote the public’s involvement in local government.

"Anything that can be done to further educate the public about the proceedings of municipal government is a good thing," said Joshua Mandell, mayor of Larchmont. "We encourage people to come to any meetings and voice their concerns over issues before the government and we encourage increased participation in general in government to our residents."

Town and village boards, school boards and any other public review board will be subject to the law. The law requires that agendas for public meetings be made available within 24 hours of the scheduled meeting time and that minutes of the meetings be provided within two weeks after the meeting.

These items, along with any documents to be discussed at the meeting, must be posted online if the agency utilizes an updated website with a high speed Internet connection.  Exceptions to the bill can be made if the documents would be too expensive or time consuming to copy.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said that having access to all of the documents being discussed will take the mystery out of public meetings.

"It relates to the frustration of people that attend meetings and can't follow what is going on. The board sitting at the front of the room refers to page two, fourth paragraph, and the audience doesn't have a clue what they're talking about," Freeman said. "This legislation will make the Open Meetings Law that much more meaningful."

The bill, an extension of the Open Meetings Law in Article 7 of the New York State Public Officers Law, was passed by the Assembly and Senate in June and will go into effect on Feb. 2.

"It should be very transparent and people should be able to get the information without going through a hassle," Natchez said. "And it should be an open process. That's part of what government should be all about.

Village and town board meetings are scheduled for Monday and Wednesday evenings respectively.

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