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Governor Andrew Cuomo announced early in his term that he'd be creating a set of "regional economic councils" to build plans for funding economic development across New York, from the ground up.In the summer of 2011 he finally announced some of the details of the program, to be led by Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy. The ten councils each have dozens of members, and are charged with gathering input from the public and business leaders, and creating a plan by November 14. Those plans will be pitted against each other for a pot of $1 billion in grants, incentives, and tax relief from various state agencies. The winners will get more funding, the losers will get less.But other details - like whether funding will be available past the initial term, and who will serve on the board that decides who wins and who loses - have not been released.The Innovation Trail is looking for your feedback about what your regional economic priorities are, and what you want your community to look like once the councils have completed their task.

Public not invited to initial regional council meetings

via Flickr
Invitation only: the governor's regional councils' inaugural meetings will be closed the public.

New York’s new regional economic development councils are kicking off their first round of meetings this week - by kicking out the public.

Each one of the 10 councils is charged with crafting a plan to compete for a $1 billion pool of state funding, but it’s still unclear what that process will look like.

Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that the first round of council meetings will begin on Wednesday, but from the looks of the press release, the public isn’t invited.

That doesn’t sit well with some good government groups.

“It sends the wrong message”

Barbara Bartoletti is the legislative director for New York’s League of Women Voters, and she’d like to see more transparency in the regional council initiative.

“This is not the governor’s government. This is the people’s government,” she says. “He’s made that point. Now he kind of has to walk the walk.”

Susan Lerner, executive director for Common Cause New York, agrees.

“It sends the wrong message: ‘We’ll start in secret, and then we’ll let you know what we want you to know’.”

The Democrat and Chronicle recently reported that Robert Freeman, executive director of the State Committee on Open Government, believes the councils aren’t subject to the open meetings law because they are advisory in nature.

But Baroletti says the public should still have a say.

“This is the public’s money,” she says. “Even though they may not be violating the open meetings law, you almost always want government to air on the side of greater transparency.”

Russ Haven, a legislative council for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) says he believes that including the public makes for better policy.

“At a minimum they should have some conduit for comments, because you never know where the next great idea may come from,” he says.

Open for business

It seems New Yorkers will get a chance to weigh in at some point. In the Cuomo administration’s new 52-page booklet, “Open for Business: A New State Government Approach to Economic Growth” public involvement is sited as key to the success of the councils:

The public will be invited to provide feedback and input throughout the strategic planning process. Each council will develop a plan to ensure public participation through outreach and community forums, as well as online.

In yesterday’s release the administration said the press will have access to council members after the inaugural meetings have wrapped up.

Last week, Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo told the Innovation Trail that the administration plans to release more details about which meetings will be public and which will be private in the near future. The administration did not respond to inquiries about whether or not the first round of meetings would be public.

WMHT/Capital Region reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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