Government Caucuses promote decisions in dark

The time has long since come to bring an end to closed political caucus meetings — particularly at the local level.

The New York Coalition For Open Government this week released its latest study that showed 23 of 27 of county governments for which records could be found hold closed caucus meetings. Chautauqua County is one of those counties, and has been for quite some time.

There is nothing illegal about political caucus meetings. They have been allowed under a legislative change to the state Open Meetings Law since 1985 as a way for politicians to discuss political business in private. It has since expanded over the years to include public business.

That’s often the case at the state Legislature, where caucus meetings are routine and commonly held before controversial votes. In a state where Democrats have the ability to do whatever they want, the real discussions are held in the Democrats’ caucuses in the Assembly and Senate. The floor debates are simply performance theater to fulfill constitutional requirements, not a place where raw discussion is held.

In Chautauqua County, the party’s roles are reversed, but the frank discussions are held in the Republican caucus — with the floor debate that we all see putting a public face on a decision agreed to in private. 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.

“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?” Paul Wolf, New York Coalition For Open Government director, asked recently.

We will answer Wolf’s rhetorical question. There is no point. It’s all a show. It’s time for caucuses to go the way of the dinosaur so the public can see how the decisions are made — and have the information they need to decide if this is the government they really want.


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