What does open government in the 21st century look like? If you heard a Nov. 12 discussion by the Fredonia Village Board, you would think it revolves around having a web site.
"It's silly not having one. It impacts our transparency. People don't see our agendas, they don't see our minutes," Trustee Susan Mackay said that evening. "People are coming in to read the minutes in village hall, and they have a right to. They should be able to see that stuff. It's public information."
But just as important for a transparent and open government is that residents of the village who attend or view meetings on TV must be able to watch decisions play out.
On that same night "transparency" of a web site was discussed, Fredonia Planning Board member James Lynden questioned the board on a recent decision involving a new hire. Though officially approved by the Village Board on Oct. 21, board members ultimately admitted the action was just a rubber stamp - or a violation of the open meetings law.
"At an earlier date a quorum of the board of trustees admittedly convened by telephone and voted to hire a part-time building inspector. Later, on Oct. 21, 2013 at an open special board meeting a resolution was passed to hire said building inspector who was already on the job. How does this happen?" Lynden, standing in photo at right, asked. "When consideration by the board of trustees to fill the position of full-time building inspector is done, will more than one interview be held? Will background checks be done? Will references be required?"
Open government is not just about a web site. It is about making decisions in the open and allowing for public comment.
What Fredonia did in October by approving a hiring over the phone was wrong and likely illegal.
No big deal though. There is nothing to enforce open meeting laws and if the village has admitted to doing it once, it has probably happened other times.
Lynden, however, was not the only one to speak out about the "sloppy" telephone meeting. "So my concern coming to you as a citizen is to encourage you to review that and to make sure you are in compliance, that's part of your charge as a trustee," another resident said.
These pages in the past have noted the uncooperative nature of the Fredonia Village Board when it comes to regional initiatives or proposals. Unfortunately, making decisions behind closed doors or on the telephone is just as uncooperative to the residents who expect accountability.
No web site can fix that.