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New York Coalition for Open Government

July 10, 2020 - 1:47pm

The City of Batavia has received a “B” grade for its handling of meeting documents and accessibility during the month of June from the New York Coalition for Open Government following the nonprofit organization’s review of the websites of 20 municipalities across the state.

According to the report that took a look at local governments with populations between 10,000 and 32,000, the minutes of Batavia City Council meetings have not been posted on its website since April 27 although three meetings took place in June – a Business Meeting on June 8 and a Conference Meeting and Special Business Meeting on June 22.

The coalition report, titled “Local Governments Struggle with Timely Posting of Meeting Minutes,” did acknowledge that the City’s meeting videos are posted on Facebook and/or YouTube, but recommended that “it would be helpful if the City website directed people to where videos can be seen or provided a link to the Facebook/YouTube page.”

Criteria used to grade the towns and villages:

-- Are all meeting documents posted online prior to the meeting?
-- Are meetings being livestreamed on the local government’s website?
-- Are meeting videos/audio posted on the website after the meeting?
-- While not required by the Open Meetings Law, are local governments posting meeting minutes online in a timely fashion?

Batavia (population: 14,400) earned the “B” grade by performing three of the four actions (all except the fourth one listed above). 

Contacted today, Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski explained that the meeting minutes are posted to the website following review and approval by City Council.

“The minutes from the June meetings will be posted after July 13 (the next Council meeting) so that Council members have the ability to approve them,” she said, adding that the City is committed to being “transparent and open.”

The City’s policy concerning the posting of the minutes doesn’t rise to the level of the New York Coalition for Open Government’s recommendation, however.

The coalition’s opinion is that “meeting minutes are timely if the minutes of the last meeting are posted before the next meeting is held. This can be done, by posting draft minutes or at the very least including the minutes from the prior meeting in the next meeting agenda packet.”

Tabelski concurred with the report that all meeting documents can be found on the website prior to the meeting. She also advised that the meetings are broadcast on Spectrum’s government access channel and on Video News Services’ YouTube page.

“There is no law requiring livestream (but) during COVID we tried livestream as it was specific to guidance during COVID because we restricted access to the meetings to the public, per Executive Order 202.1 and 202.48,” she said.

Ten other municipalities also received “B” grades while three – Geneva, Plattsburgh and Rotterdam – got an “A.” On the low end of the scale, Olean received a “D” for performing one of four standards and the Town of Lockport got an “F” (zero of four).

The study revealed that 80 percent of the municipalities surveyed, including Batavia, posted their meeting documents online before the scheduled meeting date, but Batavia was one of 12 to be more than two weeks behind in posting meeting minutes.

In conclusion, the coalition called for the New York State Open Meetings Law to be amended to require that meeting minutes be posted online within two weeks of a meeting occurring. Currently, the law in New York is that meeting minutes must be made available if requested within two weeks of a meeting.

Per its website, the New York Coalition For Open Government is a nonpartisan charitable organization comprised of journalists, activists, attorneys, educators, news media organizations, and other concerned citizens who value open government and freedom of information.

Through education and civic engagement, the coalition advocates for open, transparent government and defends citizens’ right to access information from public institutions at the city, county and state levels.

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