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Some municipalities object to document-posting requirement

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A new state mandate has some governments crying foul, while others say it’s just business as usual.

State lawmakers recently approved a change to the Open Meetings Law that requires municipalities with a website to upload any documents that will be discussed at board meetings “as practicable.”

Many of the larger municipalities, such as St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, say they have been posting documents online for years.

But some town and village governments, like the town of Massena, are criticizing the move as another unfunded mandate and hardship on communities.

“We’re not in compliance yet, and we won’t be for a while, so sue us,” said Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, calling it “more state bureaucracy.”

Even though the town of Champion has posted meeting agendas and minutes for years, the move has drawn criticism from Supervisor Terry L. Buckley.

“I think that the state ought to keep its big, fat nose out of local politics,” he said.

He added Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was just “making a name for himself.”

Members of the state’s Open Government Committee said the change, which went into effect Feb. 2, was spurred by residents’ complaints that they cannot fully understand discussions at government meetings.

And the purpose of the legislation is simple, they said. Residents interested in their government’s work should be able to see records to be discussed during open meetings prior to the sessions.

The “as practicable” part is important, they said, as it gives towns some leeway when discussing last-minute additions to the agenda.

Still, New York Association of Town Clerks President Cindy Goliber said her group lobbied against the tougher restrictions.

The law’s original form, which would have required the documents be posted within 72 hours of a meeting, was much more restrictive, said Ms. Goliber, the Potsdam town clerk.

Even the approved version, while more relaxed, creates hardships for many governments, she said.

“We’re not against transparency, but we want to make sure business can be conducted,” Ms. Goliber said.

Potsdam Supervisor Marie C. Regan said it limits the town’s ability to be flexible when conducting a meeting. The Town Council meets only once a month and with the restrictions, members might not be able to talk about everything that needs to be discussed.

And now, officials are thinking about putting the site’s maintenance out to bid, fearing further strains on the clerk’s office.

“Our website is very basic but so far it seems to have served the purpose,” Ms. Goliber said.

For some, the change has created a debate of fairness. According to the law, municipalities that don’t have a website won’t be required to create one.

And many said they won’t.

That leaves governments with a website burdened with extra tasks while those without Web pages get a free pass, said Henderson Town Clerk Charlotte R. Richmond.

“You’re having to do more than the person without the website,” Ms. Richmond said. “That’s just not fair.”

Times staff writers Reena Singh and Gordon Block and Johnson Newspapers writers Tiffany Watts and Brian Hayden contributed to this report.

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