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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Technology & Transparency at the New Hartford Public Library...

The New Hartford Public Library Board of Trustees held their first meeting of the year last Wednesday, January 19, 2011.

One of the topics on the agenda was assigning committee chairs and members for the coming year. Committee members can either be library trustees or members of the community. In fact, Ms. Romano said she welcomes members of the community to serve on these committees.

Prior to making the assignments, Board President Linda Romano instructed the board that they would have to be careful to not have a quorum of board members on each committee. Ms. Romano also stated that there are currently ten (10) members of the board; therefore, they could have no more than four (4) members on each committee in order to avoid a quorum. She stated that warning a couple of times during the meeting as they discussed committee assignments.

Here is short snippet of the meeting with Ms. Romano, in her own words:

Obviously, Ms. Romano, an attorney, is not well-versed on the Open Meetings Law; nor does she understand what a quorum means.

First of all, a quorum is defined in the NHPL by-laws as:
a majority of the current membership who must be present for valid transaction of business.
That means if you have ten (10) board members, a quorum [majority] would be six (6). Therefore, to avoid a quorum, you would need no more than five (5) trustees on each committee.

But why does Ms. Romano insist that a quorum of trustees cannot be on any committee? Obviously, she believes that without a quorum the meetings would not have to be open to the public.

Unfortunately, meetings of two or more trustees, even advisory committee meetings, must be open to the public if they are discussing public matters. Since the New Hartford Public Library depends on taxpayer funding, they are conducting public business!

The Committee on Open Government has written many opinions on the subject. It was the main reason why the Town of New Hartford had to open their Stormwater Committee Meetings.

Quoting from a 2008 Opinion Letter from the Committee On Open Government [this opinion letter was in response to a question posed by the Board of Trustees of the Guilderland Public Library]:
a "Public body" is now defined in §102(2) to include:

"...any entity for which a quorum is required in order to conduct public business and which consists of two or more members, performing a governmental function for the state or for an agency or department thereof, or for a public corporation as defined in section sixty-six of the general construction law, or committee or subcommittee or other similar body of such public body."

The opinion letter further states:
Additionally, with respect to the general intent of the Open Meetings Law, the first sentence of its legislative declaration, §100, states that:

"It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy."
The Opinion Letter concludes by saying:
Again, the amendments to the definition of "public body" suggest a clear intention on the part of the State Legislature to ensure that entities consisting of two or more members of a governing body (committees, subcommittees or similar bodies) are themselves public bodies falling with the coverage of the Law.
So all committee meetings of the New Hartford Public Library will need to be noticed to the public and must be held in a place that is accessible to the public unless there is only one (1) library trustee on each committee.

Why wouldn't they want the public to see what they are doing? They sit at these meetings and discuss ways to raise money from the public; they are even considering changing their charter to a school or special district library to get away from the town's input in their trustee appointments; they complain about the "bad publicity" they have gotten on this blog and yet they don't want the "average resident/taxpayer" involved. Just makes one wonder if they have taken a good look at themselves in the mirror lately?

Here is a list of the committees of the New Hartford Public Library. If you are interested in serving on any of these committees, please contact the library.
Charter Revision/Long Range Planning
Building and Grounds
Policy & Procedure
Technology & Transparency
By the way, we sent a copy of Robert Freeman's Opinion letter to the newly-appointed Chair of the Technology & Transparency Committee.

Here is the video of the entire meeting:

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