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Allegany County Legislature address Open Meetings Law, Freedom of Information Law

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Ways and Means Committee Chair makes statement, county attorney previews new county policy

By Andrew Harris

Last week, during a public committee meeting, the subject of executive session was front and center.

Facebooker Casey Jones, objected to the committee making a motion to enter into executive session and was provided an opportunity to speak to the committee. Jones made a statement that decried the move into executive session as illegal, citing a portion of the open meeting law which prevents two governmental bodies from entering into executive session. Jones was referring to the subject at hand, Allegany County’s contract with Alfred State College. That claim by Jones caused Legislator Adam Cyr to ask county attorney Allison Carrow for legal advice on the matter.

The request by Cyr, evoked client-attorney privilege and the committee then went into private “client-attorney session,” instead of executive session. To the layman, it appeared that Mr. Jones objection was valid and this layman went as far as to describe the unusual meeting as “beautiful democracy in action.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Upon learning that Mr. Jones claim concerning “two governmental bodies,” appeared to have been both concocted and inappropriate, we asked Jones to provide a reference to the open meeting law he cited in the meeting.

Mr. Jones reply did not provide any specific proof that such a law exists, instead offering this:

“…if one government body can’t meet in executive session without justifiable cause, why would two be able to do so?”

Yesterday, Ways and Means Chairman Brooke Harris, opened that committee meeting with a strong admonition which addressed the subject very clearly:

“There’s a chance that this committee will need to enter into executive session today to discuss the employment history of a particular individual. This is within our rights, and is not intended to limit the public’s ability to scrutinize our work. It serves the important function of protecting the privacy and integrity of the individual to be discussed. We will not waive this privilege simply to satisfy the mis-interpretations of Open Meetings Law that may exist with anyone present here today.

Furthermore, this committee will not tolerate outbursts of any kind in the chambers. Anyone attempting to disrupt the work of the committee will be asked to leave. Our job is to serve the people of the County, not to provide a forum for self-aggrandizement.

This Board embraces the philosophies of government transparency protected by the Open Meetings Law and Freedom of Information Law. We’re constantly seeking to improve our policies and procedures in a manner that improves accessibility for the public. If anyone has thoughts on how we can better achieve this goal, please don’t hesitate to let us know in an appropriate manner.”

County attorney Allison Carrow followed that statement by previewing the upcoming changes to county policy regarding Freedom of Information Law requests, aka FOIL requests.

County attorney Allison Carrow

“Allegany county will be updating it’s written policy this fall, it will be presented to the board this fall for its review and adoption. I will state the FOIL law can be found in the public officers law article 6, sections 84-90, and also in the NY Code of Rules and Regulations part 14.01 under the “Committee on Open Government.” Allegany County operates under it, we follow its policies and procedures. I do think that all the departments and department heads in Allegany County who work with myself and with the clerk of the board of legislators to comply with providing us with all the records we do request. To comply with the rules and regulations I do believe that we do a very good job enforcing it and as always we do try to improve our efficiency and policies and procedures. That is part of what we plan to do when we update our policy(FOIL.)”

Carrow went on the preview some of the changes that legislators should expect. Among those changes will be the creating of a fee for some FOIL requests. In certain situations, the county will be able to charge a fee for FOIL requests under very stringent guidelines. Carrow explained that the fees, “should not be done is such a way that we charge fees to make it punitive or prohibitive for someone in the public to access records. The purpose of the FOIL law is to give the public access, with certain exceptions.”

Chairman Harris queried Carrow on the cost that the county incurs per FOIL request. She described that most requests can be completed quickly, although sometimes the request can take up to two hours.

The subject of FOIL requests has a direct association with Casey Jones as well. It has been common knowledge that Jones has submitted hundreds of FOIL requests to Allegany County since he began his Facebook page, Allegany Hope. Those requests could start costing Jones coin in the future. Luckily Facebooking is free.

Stay tuned to this news site for updates on the new county policy on handling FOIL requests and NYS Open Government Law.

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