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Mark Mahoney's Your Right to Know
by Mark Mahoney

Your Right to Know

A Daily Gazette opinion blog
An interactive forum for readers on open government issues.
 

Email exchange over block grants

By
Friday, April 25, 2014

There was a curious item at the end of Tuesday's article on the Schenectady City Council meeting regarding the annual debate over the Community Development Block Grants budget.
This is regularly a contentious process because so many organizations are competing for more federal money than the city has available.
No one on the city council wants to subject themselves to public scrutiny for what they might or might not recommend for funding. But they still want to get their ideas to council President Margaret King.
First, they asked if they could meet with her in a closed-door session, but were told that would be a violation of the Open Meetings Law. So they came up with another way to get their ideas across outside of public earshot -- by exchanging emails.
They're walking a fine line in violating the Open Meetings Law.
Board members are entitled to communicate via e-mail. But whether the emails must be disclosed depends on what information they contain.
Generally, intra- and inter-agency communications must be disclosed. But communications "reflective of opinion, advice, recommendation" can be withheld under the Freedom of Information Law.
Communication that contains factual/statistical information cannot be withheld from the public, so perhaps a portion of these emails must be released.
A fairly new provision of the law requires disclosure of emails that are going to be subject to discussion at an upcoming public meeting. So if the recommendations are going to be discussed in public, they must be disclosed.
Whether the emails are public or not, it seems the council should release them on the basis that constituents do have a vested interest in knowing what organizations their council members are recommending for funding.
Our reporter on the story plans to filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the emails. Let's hope the council doesn't wait for that request and releases the contents of the emails prior to the next meeting the grants are discussed.
Thanks to Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, for his guidance and advice in this matter. You'll be seeing his name pop up often in this blog.
If you have thoughts on this or any other subjects relating to open government, post them here. Or send me an email at mmahoney@dailygazette.net.

 
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