Coalition targets closed caucus gatherings
The open government Wolf has targeted another sheep: Political caucus meetings.
The New York Coalition For Open Government and its president, Paul Wolf, issued a report and held a media event last week about the meetings.
Wolf referred to them as “secret meetings held across the state at all levels of government. There’s no notice, no minutes. The public and the media are not allowed in. The amazing thing is, it’s perfectly legal.”
He explained that caucus meetings where public business is discussed are not a violation of New York’s Open Meetings Law. A Legislature rule change in 1985 allowed caucuses to discuss political business, “but it’s been expanded to include public business,” Wolf said.
He called New York’s Democrats and Republicans “equally bad” when it comes to open government.
“What’s the point of a public meeting if we can do the whole thing in private, then just put on a show in public?” Wolf wondered.
In its report, the coalition sought information about caucuses from every legislature or board of supervisors among New York’s 57 counties. Only 14 counties responded but the coalition found information on 13 more counties through its own research.
Chautauqua County was reported as one of the counties where parties do hold caucuses. Out of the 27 counties information was found for, 23 hold private caucuses.
“Although this has been happening for many years, at some point, we gotta fix this,” Wolf said. He noted local municipalities can pass their own open government laws and do not have to wait for action from Albany.
Locally, in the Chautauqua County Legislature, the Republican caucus represents a supermajority — 15 of 19 votes.
In Dunkirk, Democrats in city government have alleged the last two years that the Republicans’ Common Council caucus shut them out of the decision-making process on the budget. The Republicans have held a council majority both years.