Coalition for Open Government Releases Livestream Report
By WRILEY NELSON
NEW YORK STATE
The New York Coalition for Open Government released a report on the status of meeting livestreaming by village, town and city governments at a press conference on June 15. The coalition partnered with the Cornell University State Policy and Advocacy Clinic to review more than 1,200 municipalities around the state. Only 23 percent of elected bodies livestream their meetings, including 48 percent of cities, 21 percent of towns and 24 percent of villages. The report examines the data in detail to determine the impact of digital methods, regional variation and population size on the livestreaming rate. The Southern Tier and Central New York regions had some of the lowest rates in the state, including 8 percent in Delaware County, 7 percent in Otsego County, 4 percent in Chenango County, 3 percent in Oneida County and 0 percent in Herkimer, Montgomery, and Tioga Counties. Despite the challenges they face, many small, rural communities have taken this critical step toward open government in the last few years.
The coalition has repeatedly raised the alarm about disappointing open-government metrics in New York municipalities over the last several years. Their 2022 annual report found that 72 percent of towns failed to post meeting documents online and 25 percent failed to post meeting minutes or recordings. Thirty-nine percent of counties failed to acknowledge a Freedom of Information Law request within five business days as required by law and 28 percent never acknowledged the request at all. It took counties an average of 25 days simply to send the coalition a copy of their FOIL policies. Sixty-five percent of county boards of elections did not respond to e-mails or phone calls of any kind and 73 percent failed to respond to FOIL requests in time. It took an average of 49 days for the coalition to receive requested meeting minutes.
In another report, posted in November 2022, the coalition randomly selected 18 towns from different regions of the state to determine whether they posted meeting documents and minutes as required by law. Only five, including Hartwick, received a passing grade. The coalition also noted a rise in private executive sessions, where a significant amount of public business is transacted with no notice or minutes.
State law requires municipalities with websites to post minutes within two weeks of a meeting. Of the 34 municipalities in Otsego County, only 16 have updated their online minutes list to include their May meetings. Seven more have posted meeting minutes from earlier in 2023. Six have no website. The Town of Plainfield maintains only its most recent meeting minutes. Only the towns of Hartwick and Oneonta, the Village of Cooperstown and the City of Oneonta post recorded video of meetings.
New York was the last state to pass an open meetings law, in 1976. As currently written, the OML does not require broadcasting. Although legislation passed in the last 10 years and especially since the pandemic has expanded the use of videoconferencing to accommodate public body members who cannot be physically present, there is no requirement to accommodate members of the public in a similar way. Oregon and Indiana have recently passed laws requiring local governments to livestream their meetings and post recordings online; similar bills are under consideration in Virginia, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Maryland.
The New York Coalition for Open Government is a nonpartisan, non-profit charitable organization comprised of journalists, activists, attorneys, educators, news media organizations and other concerned citizens that advocates for transparent government and easy access to public information. For more information or to view the full report, visit http://www.nyopengov.org/.