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Open government group issues report critical of Berne town officials

Dec 31, 2020 2:30 pm

Noah Zweifel is reporting for The Altamont Enterprise town of Berne officials have been criticized by open-government watchdog, the Coalition for Open Government. The coalition this week released a report critical of Berne officials for prohibiting public comment at town board meetings, for improperly conducting executive sessions and for failing to post meeting minutes online within the timeframe prescribed by state law. The Erie County-based coalition is a not-for-profit organization founded by attorney Paul Wolf in 2018, that “… promotes open, transparent government and defends citizens’ right to access information from public institutions at the city, county, and state levels,” according to its mission statement. The report was sent to the Berne Town Board and town clerk, as well as local media. It calls on Berne officials to allow public comment at every town board meeting. Officials currently limit public comment to every other regularly scheduled meeting. The report also requests the town clerk post meeting minutes online within two weeks, as allowed by New York’s Open Meetings Law, among other things. “The residents of Berne,” the report concludes, “have been subjected to a dysfunctional government, which has resulted in investigations, censures, lawsuits, audits, and improper executive sessions, all while being kept in the dark in many ways by the town board and town clerk. The town board has additionally muted the public by not allowing the public to be heard at every town board meeting.” The report asks that Berne officials call executive sessions using the reasons provided by the Open Meetings Law, which they have frequently failed to do; publicly post information for residents on how to file a Freedom of Information Law request, which is not currently available on the site; and create an archive of meeting agendas and documents. Neither Supervisor Sean Lyons nor the town’s attorney, Javid Afzali, could immediately be reached for comment. Wolf said his organization became aware of the lack of transparency in Berne as a result of ongoing coverage by The Altamont Enterprise. “The news media plays an extremely important role in bringing open government issues to light and pressure that brings about changes,” Wolf said. Read the full story in The Altamont Enterprise.