Most municipalities in Allegany, Cattaraugus do not meet New York | News

Changes to the state’s open meetings law mean more information is supposed to be available ahead of government meetings. But the vast majority of municipalities in the region are not compliant.

After several updates focused on record distribution were enacted in the fall of 2021, The Times Herald reviewed the websites of all municipalities and school districts in Allegany and Cattaraugus counties during the first weeks of January to see if municipalities, counties and school districts are in compliance. with the changes.

Three new laws in October and November amended the Public Meetings Act or the Freedom of Information Act regarding municipal websites. On October 19, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law requiring that documents to be discussed at public meetings be made available upon request or posted on the local government website at least 24 hours before the meeting if the documents are available, in order to better inform the public about the business to be conducted.

The change took effect on November 18.

On October 25, Hochul signed additional legislation requiring that the city clerk’s sign information – contact details for local officials, public notices, etc. – be published online. And on Nov. 8, Hochul signed a law requiring municipalities to post meeting minutes online within two weeks of the meeting, or within a week of a meeting with an executive session — with the option to post online. full-length audio or audio-visual recordings as an acceptable solution. alternative to written minutes.

The three laws only apply to government agencies that have active, up-to-date websites and high-speed Internet access. The Municipal Traffic Signs Act states that cities are not required to comply if the municipality incurs additional costs. No funding was attached to any of the laws and no enforcement mechanism was specified.

UNDER STATE LAW, government entities such as municipalities and school districts are not required to have websites, although the vast majority of Allegany and Cattaraugus counties found them useful and funded their maintenance as early as the mid-1990s. 1990.

Although most have websites, a review showed that the vast majority of cities and towns in the region are not complying with the changes, while most school boards are in full or near full compliance.

Determining whether an agency had a website or not was simple – a Google search for the agency by name showing a website in the first three pages of results.

Whether a website is active and regularly updated was determined by visiting the website and looking for indications such as updated agendas or minutes, public notices of budgets or laws news, or news of interest to residents. Most websites that were not considered actively updated generally had single-page websites with lists of officials and contact information, but limited other information.

Municipalities were not individually vetted for high-speed Internet access, but were assumed to have such access if they had active and regularly updated websites.

Compliance of agendas and supporting documents was deemed to be in compliance if the documents had been available for board meetings since the law came into force – usually the monthly meeting in December or the reorganization meeting in January. In addition, several agencies had already posted these documents online for upcoming meetings in January, also indicating their compliance.

Meeting minutes were found to be in compliance if the agency released the December or January meeting minutes when they were reviewed between January 5 and January 10 by Times Herald staff, as a follow-up to see if each agency had uploaded them within the precise 14-day window of their last meeting date would be next to impossible.

Thirty-one of the 106 agency websites visited had November meeting minutes — not compliant, but indicating recent efforts to post minutes online.

IN CATTARAUGUS COUNTY, 41 of 43 municipalities have websites and 36 are regularly updated — 83.7% of municipalities. Only the towns of Conewango and Ischua do not have a website.

Five municipalities had standard boilerplate type websites with just a list of city officials. These towns often have some of the lowest population numbers in the state, such as the town of Red House with 27 residents according to the 2020 census.

Such websites were common in municipalities from the mid-1990s. All five appeared to have been updated relatively recently, including current officials and links to the 2021 assessment rolls.

Only one city – Freedom – provided online materials prior to the meeting. Five municipalities, or about 12%, had posted agendas online prior to the last meeting.

Eleven municipalities updated their websites with the most recent meeting minutes when accessed in early January, or 25.6%. In addition, 14 other municipalities had minutes available for their November 2021 meeting – although technically non-compliant, this shows that municipal leaders were recently trying to post meeting minutes online.

IN ALLEGANY COUNTY, municipalities were almost three times more likely to have no website than to have a fully compliant one.

Only two municipalities had compliant websites – the Town of Independence and the Village of Almond, or about 5% of all municipalities.

Meanwhile, five cities — Birdsall, Clarksville, Granger, New Hudson and Ward — have no websites, or about 13%. Six municipalities — the towns of Burns, West Almond and Wirt; and the villages of Bolivar, Canaseraga and Richburg — have websites, but they are not updated regularly.

Thirteen municipalities posted meeting agendas in advance, while only two posted supporting documents. Eleven cities posted their minutes from the previous meeting during the review, while nine were a month late.

WHILE THE SCHOOL NEIGHBORHOODS as a group were more compliant, the majority were still not compliant at the time of the audit.

Of the 25 school districts in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties — 23 central school districts, one city school district and one union-free school district — 11 were in full compliance, or 44 percent. Two others were only one meeting minutes away from being fully compliant, and five lacked documents related to the most recent meeting agenda.

The reasons why schools are more compliant than cities and towns come down to two factors: funding and external support services.

School districts generally have much larger budgets than cities and towns – often by orders of magnitude. The Yorkshire-Pioneer Central School District, for example, had a budget of nearly $58 million in 2020-21, compared to some rural town budgets hovering around $500,000 a year.

Thus, schools have more funds to hire IT professionals or to maintain a professional website. Additionally, many school districts receive direct assistance with their websites or computer needs through their local Cooperative Educational Services Board. The majority of schools in the area are members of Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES, while Alfred-Almond and Canaseraga school districts are part of the Greater Southern Tier BOCES; and Gowanda is part of the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES.

The most frequent shortcoming was the lack of documents to be discussed distributed before the meeting, noted in 12 arrondissements, or 48%.

Most compliant districts use separate portals to maintain meeting minutes, agendas, and supporting documents. All but one of the districts using such a system were compliant – Yorkshire-Pioneer lacked December board meeting minutes but were otherwise compliant.

Missing minutes was the second most common shortcoming. Eight school districts did not have updated minutes on their websites, with seven having the November meeting minutes available but not the minutes held in December or January. Only one district — Cuba-Rushford — hadn’t released a ticket since September.

Only four of the districts did not appear to post an online agenda in advance.

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