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Freeman Supports Arthur’s Stance

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According to an April 17 letter, Robert J. Freeman supports the contentions of Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (BFSA) secretary George K. Arthur, who has disputed the search process for a new executive director of the entity. (See Control Freaks, and this story for background.)
Freeman is the Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government at the NYS Department of State in Albany. He offers his view on a number of questions raised by Arthur, including whether a committee meeting is subject to the same rules as the authority and whether the public and press must be notified of such meetings.

Freeman notes that an “advisory body, such as a citizens’ advisory committee, would not in my opinion be subject to the Open Meetings Law.” But he continues, “when a committee consists solely of members of a public body, such as the Board of Directors of the Authority, I believe that the Open Meetings Law is applicable.”

Further, “because the committee to which you referred is, in my opinion, a public body, it is required to provide notice of its meetings in accordance with section 104 of the Open Meetings Law,” Freeman writes. This provision of the law says that public notice of the time and place of a meeting shall be given to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before each meeting.

“If a meeting is scheduled less than a week in advance, again, notice of time and place must be given to the news media and posted in the same manner ‘to the extent practicable’, at a reasonable time prior to the meeting. Therefore, if, for example, there is a need to convene quickly, the notice requirements can generally be met by telephoning the local news media and by posting notice in one or more designated locations.”

By BFSA board chairman Paul Kolkmeyer’s own admission, many of the “meetings” of the three-member executive search committee were conducted over the phone and via email. As such, they could not possibly have been conducted in accordance with the Open Meetings Law—if you respect the opinions of Robert Freeman, who has served as executive director of the Committee on Open Government for 32 years and has written over 17,000 advisory opinions on the subject.

One of Arthur’s main problems with being denied access to information generated by the control board is that, as board secretary, he needs that info to do his job. Freeman’s advice? “It is suggested that, in the absence of any Authority rule or by-law, you might recommend that such a provision be adopted that specifies that Authority members should have the ability to obtain Authority records when seeking the records in the performance of their duties, and when a request is not unreasonable or unduly burdensome.”

Seems reasonable.