Public finally getting a chance to weigh in on economic councils

Aug 22, 2011

If you listen above, you'll hear co-chair of the Capital Region economic development council, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, cut off a speaker giving public testimony at the council's first open meeting. She did it repeatedly at the meeting last Thursday.

The Capital Region economic development council is just one of ten across the state, tasked with making a regional economic plan. When the councils first kicked off, they were criticized for closing their meetings to the public. But they promised that future meetings would be open.

But as Thursday's meeting showed that's only happened in part.

Across the state, the regional councils have been holding their second round of meetings. Those meeting have been called "public" but have included lengthy, closed executive sessions.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office maintains that since the councils are advisory bodies, that don't make binding decisions, they don't have to hold any talks in public.

"The process matters"

"When you don't abide by the open meetings law ... the risk is that the perception is that whatever is done in public is a dog and pony show," says Russ Haven.

Haven, who we also talked to last week about the potential for closed meetings at Empire State Development, agrees the councils probably don't have to conduct their business in public. However, he says:

"At the end of the day, the process matters and there will be winners and losers in this. If people feel it's been a completely transparent process, that will increase public support for whatever their final decisions are."

Participation plans

The councils were each charged with creating what's called a "public participation plan" to help with that process of increasing public support. They have an August 24th due date for their proposals. Several councils have already complied with that deadline.

The central New York council's first forum devoted entirely to hearing public input  is tomorrow. The goal is to collect feedback on the council's vision statement. Here are the details:

Grewen Auditorium at LeMoyne College
6 to 8 p.m.
419 Salt Springs Road, Syracuse, NY 13214

We'll see you there.