Sunshine Week Statement
New Yorkers Need Open Government
During COVID-19 Emergency
Why Sunshine Week Matters More Than Ever
Appreciation for Governor and Mayor’s Frequent, Informative Press Conferences
We mark this unusual Sunshine Week, March 15 to 21, 2020 by thanking Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and many other county officials for their efforts to keep the public well informed about the COVID-19 outbreak and government efforts to control it.
Sunshine Week was created by journalists to highlight how the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and Open Meetings Law (OML) foster government transparency and accountability. FOIL and OML are especially important at this time given the extraordinary emergency powers that have been granted to the Governor, Mayor and public health officials.
Open Meetings During COVID-19
Both Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature have recognized it is important to follow the intent of the Open Meetings Law during the COVID-19 emergency. Governor Cuomo’s first Executive Order 202 narrowly suspended OML requirements for specific public health bodies, which were still required to webcast their meetings and allow public comment. However, the updated EO 202.1 is less in the spirit of the Open Meetings Law. Reinvent Albany believes that at a minimum, public bodies that currently accept public comment should continue to do so, even if their meetings are not held in person.
Additionally, we note that the new powers granted to the Governor on March 3rd give him enormous latitude to suspend any law that he feels interferes with fighting COVID-19. We ask that the Governor continue to use this power responsibly and keep in mind the intent of FOIL and OML. This is not a war against a human enemy, and in a democracy, the public has the right to be kept informed.
Senator Brad Hoylman, in consultation with the state’s Committee on Open Government, has drafted a sensible bill temporarily allowing government boards to hold meetings via teleconference as long as the public can listen in or view online. The bill also importantly provides the opportunity for Article 78 challenges to agency determinations not following OML requirements. We support Senator Hoylman’s bill.
The COVID-19 emergency is underlining how important it is for our government to communicate with New Yorkers in a clear, timely and honest way. Open government is not a luxury, it is one of the core tenets of a democratic society.