From the Executive Director of Allegany Hope, Casey Jones
Jones made news yesterday in Belmont with “executive session” challenge
BELMONT – An Allegany County families advocacy organization is forming a new Open Government Forum to aid in enhancing local and state government transparency and assist individuals and families in knowing more about issues which oftentimes impact them but of which they are unaware or have limited knowledge.
Allegany Hope, which publishes an online newsletter, Allegany Hope Community News, is hosting the nonpartisan activity which is open to news media and individual journalists, educators, local government officials, community activists, and other concerned citizens who value open government and freedom of information.
Casey Jones, a longtime open government advocate who edits the online information source, said the purpose of the forum will be to identify open government issues which need to be addressed on the local and state levels, educate the public and local government officials in regard to provisions of the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and Open Meetings Law (OML), advocate for greater transparency in government operations, and acquaint the public with available resources if they are rebuffed in attempts to obtain public documents or attend or participate in local government meetings.
Jones, who also is executive director of Allegany Hope, says that government officials often are unaware of the FOIL and OML, even though they are required to comply with them, ignore the more than 40-year-old statutes due to seeing them as a bother, or simply don’t want to comply with them or let the public know some of the actions they take for a variety of reasons.
He said the two laws, along with a Freedom of Information Act on the federal level, are designed to open governments to public scrutiny, with New York laws mandating that all local and state government records, along with all meetings, are available and open to the public unless they specifically are shielded, primarily due to privacy issues.
Allegany Hope already is an active participant with the New York Coalition for Open Government which advocates statewide for greater local and state government transparency and has published many reports which show a consistent dismal record overall by local governments in adhering to the laws.
Jones points to the preamble of the FOIL which notes that “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government.
“As state and local government services increase and public problems become more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve, and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures, it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible.”
The Allegany Hope director said that most gatherings of the new Open Government Forum will be conducted online to enable the greatest participation county-wide and beyond.
Further information is available from Jones at [email protected] or (484) 435-0503.
Read our reporting yesterday on the impact Jones had on the legislative committee meeting: