The headline demands we pick sides. Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo battles with aldermen over ethics law proposals (updated) appeared on the Daily Freeman online today. The gist of the article is that Mayor Shayne Gallo and Aldermen Thomas Hoffay and Matt Dunn are disagreeing as much about the transparency of meetings and discussions regarding proposed ethics legislation as they are the actual legislation. To quote the article, “Dunn and Hoffay have proposed an ethics law they say nearly mirrors the one Gallo has pitched. The mayor, though, says that the two are “vastly” different, accusing the two of including politically-motivated language that makes theirs unconstitutional.”
The real problem, though, is that we, the people, don’t really know what is in the legislation, and that information is difficult to come by. With any luck the Mayor and the council members will work out the ethics legislation, with the help of the Corporation Counsel. But, the general public can’t help without knowing what the proposals are.
I suggest that all proposals ready for public discussion, as written by the legislators, Mayor, or department heads, be posted on the City of Kingston‘s website. The city is already doing this with road closings, some press releases, tentative assessment rolls, adopted budgets, et al. Why can’t this be done with proposed legislation? I know that before these items get to committee meetings the proposer has written, at least in broad terms, what they want to discuss, try, and legislate. What we get are brief glimpses into some of the highlights, usually after meetings have been held. They come in drips and drabs from the newspapers, the radio, and word-of-mouth. The last is most troubling, because it usually comes laden with opinion and slanted to the speaker’s point of view.
Is it also possible to add meeting agendas to the meetings schedule page? The framework is the same, generally, month-to-month. Those agendas could be updated as items are added. This would be a step up from the usual “grab a copy when you arrive” model, and could save us some in printing costs.
Not long ago, I attended a Laws and Rules Committee meeting. City Hall’s meeting room was packed past capacity to hear the discussion on the pending new rental inspection law. It wasn’t long before the first complaint was raised in the voice of Alderman Matt Dunn. Chiefly upset that he didn’t have any time with the written legislation proposal before the meeting, he chastised Corporation Counsel Andrew Zweben and Committee Chair Robert Senor, saying it was impossible to be prepared for the meeting with such short notice. I agree. How can any of us participate in our government without knowing what, specifically our legislators are considering?
I understand the need for private meeting. Not all discussion needs to be public. The public must be allowed to work with their representatives, though, and we can’t do that from a position of ignorance.
Now is the time to do this. Our city’s website is better than it has ever been. Updates and searchable .pdf pages are posted just about every day. Mayor Gallo and the Common Council are both calling for transparency and accountability to the voters of Kingston. Hoffay said city lawmakers and the mayor should start with things where “we agree rather than where we disagree.”, according to the story. So, agree on this first. City officials post their proposals online before public discussion takes place. The online versions of the papers could publish links to the documents, constituents can see what their representatives are doing, and we can all participate before the final version of a bill becomes the law. Maybe Ulster County and the Kingston School District will get on board, too, and put some of those new iPads to work.
Kingston is getting better, but it only improves when we get involved.