Weekly paper changes state policy

Waiting for an answer

By Les Bowen for Genesee Country Express   |   April 7, 2011   |   Original source

The Genesee Country Express had an update this week to an ongoing battle with the New York State Comptroller’s Office.

Journalists have few passions greater than railing against opaque government, and the ongoing practice of the Comptroller’s Office to cut off access to public meetings fits the bill.

The Comptroller’s Office has relied on its own so-called “policy” of closing doors on the public’s business for at least 10 years and uses the policy on a frequent basis. Just this year, the state agency issued more than 120 audit reports, most of them dealing with government entities overseen by boards and councils that are subject to the Open Meetings Law.

By the Comptroller’s Office’s own admission, the issue of closing meetings generates frequent concerns. Questions about the practice of closing meetings are so routine that Comptroller’s Office spokesman Mark Johnson said in February that it’s one of the most frequent questions he gets. However, in spite of apparently repeat inquiries to the Comptroller’s Office and a 2001 opinion from the state’s Committee on Open Government addressing this very subject, the Comptroller’s Office does not seem to have ready access to a policy that it uses literally hundreds of times a year.

When we filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law to obtain a copy of the law, we fully expected to have a copy within the normal five-day response period. When the the Comptroller’s Office said they needed 20 business days to complete our request, that was surprising. We expected on April 4 to receive a copy of the policy. Instead, we were told the agency needed more time.

That was shocking.

It all leads us to wonder why the Comptroller’s Office is unable to locate its own internal policy after more than a month and why they need three more months to figure out where it is. And that leads us to wonder, does this policy exist at all?

If the policy exists, release it and defend it. If it does not exist, stop violating the law. It’s that simple.