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County government boards praised, criticized for openness

Local government boards such as Dunkirk are doing well compared to Brocton and Cassadaga which terrible, according to a state accountability group, when it comes to keeping meetings public.

The New York Coalition for Open Government recently held a press conference with the intention of sharing the results of an impromptu study of select governments around the state.

The title of the report shared by the coalition is “Local Governments Mute the Public During Remote Meetings.” 67% of the local governments (14 out of 21) reviewed across the state have eliminated hearing from the public during their April meetings held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Meetings now are being done remotely,” said Paul Wolf, president of the coalition. “We believe that the public should see and hear what the elected officials do.”

The 21 local governments reviewed as part of the report were Erie County, Niagara County, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Monroe County, Rochester, Broome County, Binghamton, Onondaga County, Syracuse, Jefferson County, Watertown, Oneida County, Utica, Saratoga County, Albany, Westchester County, Yonkers, New York City, Suffolk County and Brookhaven.

Additional items reviewed in the report are whether local governments complied with the requirement to live stream their meetings, posted audio/video of their meetings and posted all meeting documents online prior to their meeting, along with the first guideline of addressing the public.

“Hopefully with practice (governments) will get better with this,” said Wolf. “Some people have issues or concerns with connectivity in the state, but for about 90% of the state that is not a concern.”

The coalition gave each government a grade based on how many of the four guidelines they met, where if they met all four guidelines, they received an A, 3 out of 4 received a B, 2 out of 4 received a C, and 1 out of 4 received a failing grade.

Local governments in western New York have been challenged to move their meetings and public hearings to an online format. The grades for some local governments, based on the four guidelines and grading scale provided by the coalition, are as follows:

City of Dunkirk Common Council: A

Fredonia Village Board: B

Silver Creek Village Board: C

Gowanda Village Board: C

Cassadaga Village Board: F

Brocton Village Board: F

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