Monday, November 09, 2009

Breaking One Set of Rules to Enforce Another?

Liz Benjamin is reporting that the Assembly’s ethics committee held a closed-door session this morning, the subject of which committee members have kept tightly under wraps. While it’s good news that the committee – which, as we noted in our 2008 report, sometimes goes years without meeting – is doing its job, the opacity of the process may be cause for concern.

According to the New York State Open Meetings Law, a committee can only hold a closed-door ‘executive session’ after taking a vote “in an open meeting pursuant to a motion identifying the general area or areas of the subject or subjects to be considered” for the following reasons:

a. matters which will imperil the public safety if disclosed;

b. any matter which may disclose the identity of a law enforcement agent or informer;

c. information relating to current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense which would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed;

d. discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation;

e. collective negotiations pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law;

f. the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation;

g. the preparation, grading or administration of examinations; and

h. the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities held by such public body, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.

It is certainly plausible that options c, d, or f are relevant to official Ethics Committee business, but the committee's failure to disclose the subject of the meeting is suspect. The law allowing executive sessions is designed to protect the public and afford due process to those accused of violating the law, not to obscure the business of the legislature from public view.

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