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Larchmont Women Gets Answers at Open Government Q&A

MAMARONECK, N.Y. - Sue Hertz left New York State Assemblyman George Latimer's public forum on open government at the Town of Mamaroneck Firehouse with more answers than questions Thursday night.

"It got me thinking about things I never thought about before," said Hertz, a Larchmont resident and member of the League of Women's Voters.

President of the League of Women's Voters Elisabeth Radow and Latimer hosted the event, titled "Q&A on Open Government" featuring Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on open government.

“The League of Women Voters exists to make democracy work,” said Radow, in a press release.  “We encourage informed and active participation in government and work to increase understanding of public policy issues."

Freeman answered questions from residents as well as local and county board members, who filled the small auditorium on the second floor of the Firehouse.

When answering questions, Freeman gave a thorough history of the issue being addressed, cited specific case law, then applied them to the specifics of the question.

Hertz wanted to know whether phone calls and e-mails between members of government had to be made available to the public under New York State's Freedom of Information Law, one of the two laws Freeman discussed in length at the two-hour meeting. The other law was the Open Meetings Law.

"This issue came up time after time during the meeting," said Freeman, who began his career in 1974. "If it's a conversation and there's no record, FOIL wouldn't apply. But if there's a written communication then FOIL would apply. That doesn't necessarily mean it would be accessible."

Hertz was fascinated that e-mails could become part of public record if a government agency determined the content was related to government business, as Freeman explained.

While Freeman discussed what documents do and do not fall under FOIL, he spent an equal portion of the event disproving myths about government, such as the need for a board to approve minutes before publishing them. Freeman said it has become common practice, but there is no basis in law. On the contrary, there is a law that requires boards to publish the minutes within two weeks of a meeting.

"We're fortunate we have him in this job and fortunate he did this event," Latimer said.

What questions do you have about open government laws? Comment below, on Facebook or Twitter.

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