Weekly paper changes state policy

Auditors to comply with Open Meetings Law

OSC aligns policy to state law

By Les Bowen for Genesee Country Express   |   May 5, 2011   |   Original source

State auditors will no longer meet with local government boards, according to a technical memorandum circulated internally in the Office of the State Comptroller.

More than two months after the Genesee Country Express made its initial request, the OSC provided an updated policy to the newspaper Monday afternoon.

“Our office recently completed a review of these policies and, as a result, made changes to both policies,” wrote Jane Hall, OSC records access officer. The response included portions of the previous policy, last updated in 2008, and the technical memorandum that updated the policy.

The newspaper’s request stems from a February meeting in Springwater, when OSC officials met behind closed doors with a full quorum of the town board. However, New York’s Open Meetings Law requires all meetings of a quorum of the elected body to be open to the public, except for eight specific circumstances for executive sessions as defined in the law, such as discussing litigation, collective bargain agreements, real estate negotiations and certain issues related to public safety or personnel.

After an OSC spokesman said the auditor’s actions were in line with the division’s policies, the Express used New York’s Freedom of Information Law to submit a records request to view the policy. Records released by the Comptroller’s Office included both the previous policy and the updated policy that went into effect April 11.

Under the 1998 policy, discussions in entrance conferences “are extensions of the audit process and are not subject to public exposure.”

The policy went as far as to restrict attendance at audit conferences. According to the 1998 policy, “invitees should be informed that only officials of the local government, the CPA and the attorney for the local government (when approved by the audit supervisor) will be allowed to attend.”

The updated policy restricts attendance to the local government’s chief executive officer and chief financial officer.

Bob Freemen, executive director of New York’s Committee on Open Government said he was aware of OSC’s policy change and said from his view, the policy complies with the Open Meetings Law because quorums of elected bodies will no longer attend audit conferences.

The policy puts the decision to convene open meetings back on the local government, Freeman said. “It’s up to the municipal officials to want to have a majority or quorum present.”

Freeman went on to say that the Open Meetings Law is a key for government transparency.

Genesee Country Express attempted to contact an OSC spokesman for comment on the decision to change the policy, but has received no response.

The two-page technical memorandum as well as the relevant portions of OSC’s affected policy are available online at dansvilleonline.com.