Do We Have To Provide Public Information?

When Lackawanna, New York resident Faith Gordon requested that the Lackawanna City Council post full agendas of Council meetings on-line the response she received from Councilman Francis J. Kulczyk, as reported in the Buffalo News was:

“Why do we have to put it on the website? I don’t understand,” said 3rd Ward Councilman Francis J. Kulczyk. “Do we have to do it? Who else does it?”

To their credit several area municipalities (Buffalo, Hamburg) post full agendas of meetings, including memos and other supporting documents for resolutions, ordinances or other matters up for consideration on the Internet. Most communities like Lackawanna post a summarized agenda on line before the meeting, which provides a bare minimum of information to the public.

The public should have access to the complete packet of information that is being presented to their elected representatives for approval. As Ms. Gordon states “Is it so much work for one person in City Hall to post this information on our website?” With technology today all one has to do when copying the complete Council agenda is scan the documents and post them on-line. It really is not a difficult task, yet not one of the five Council members spoke up in favor of providing the public full access to the Council’s proceedings.

Lackawanna resident John Ingram summed the issue up well by stating “This has to change. It doesn’t matter if you have to do it, it’s the right thing to do. “We need information on the website so we can look it up and come to these meetings and ask you questions. It’s not wrong to want that information.”

I give Faith Gordon credit for raising this issue in her community but it is amazing to me that citizens still need to push for basic information from their local governments.

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Pat Fiorenza

Thanks for sharing this – it’s also sad that the councilman doesn’t see the value in making information public. Glad citizens took some initiative.

Mark Hammer

The boundaries between “inconvenience” and “threat” can sometimes be paper thin.

It’s easy to imagine that a city council, or other body, would be averse to publicizing the business they conduct, for fear that the public would begin to attend such meetings and intervene. At its heart, that is merely an inconvenience. But like I say, sometimes what is really just an inconvenience can be re-interpreted by some as a threat. That’s just how people are.

At the same time, I think it bears consideration that, in the present climate, absence of such information, is often more likely to engender suspicion and attack. Of course, if one starts making such information available after a historical dearth of it, there is every reason to expect it will be reacted to with suspicion born out of lousy communication and a “trust us” attitude.

I hope that doesn’t sound too cynical, because that’s not the intent. The upshot is that its less a matter of posting vs not posting, but really one of fostering understanding and trust, which is a job that never really ends for any public institution.

Kacie Galbraith

I’m a little surprised by the councilman’s response– I think it’s a great idea to post full agendas of Council meetings. I’m of the opinion that the more transparency we can provide in local government, the better! Good for Ms. Gordon for speaking up.

Kurt Williams

Like anything there is a cost involved, either staff time or a software system for doing so – or both. I agree that any information you can make available to the public is important for transparency sake but not all govs have the resources or know-how. When you start looking at push button systems the costs can be upwards of 20,000+ factor in staff time and you have a significant dollar amount. Not all govs are fully equipped for the digital age at this point. And here in NJ our governor for one, isnt helping to make public service all that attractive for younger more digitally connected potential employees.