Area school districts, municipalities and other public bodies have had about a year to begin giving the public access to records scheduled for discussion at public meetings.
Part of the change also meant public bodies that have a regularly and routinely updated website must post such records on the website, to the extent practicable.
We're happy to say our area is complying pretty well.
An informal survey of the area's 49 town, village, city, county and school district websites shows about 80 percent comply with the state regulations. All 20 of the region's school districts regularly post meeting minutes. Most post agendas before regularly scheduled board meetings. Both of Chautauqua County's cities make minutes and agendas available on their websites. The Chautauqua County Legislature and nearly every county board and commission make agenda and meeting minutes available on the Internet.
It gets tougher for smaller towns and villages whose offices are staffed by part-time clerks. Some of those clerks don't have enough computer experience to navigate posting information to a website - meaning some of the smaller towns and villages have either a very rudimentary website or the information is hardly ever updated. Several of these places have trouble getting meeting minutes posted regularly. It is understandable why those smaller towns and villages are having trouble with this regulation. Towns don't want to use additional tax money to improve their websites and don't have the existing personnel to handle the job. Right now, it's just not practical for them to spend time and money on their website. For them, the state's guideline might as well have been President Kennedy asking them to put a man on the moon. In time, they'll get there.
When the time comes for those places to update their websites, they can look at the town of North Harmony or the Ripley Central School district as examples of how to do it correctly.
Freedom of information is a useful tool for newspapers, but the law is not just for journalists. It's for the public. Most governments in The Post-Journal's readership area have taken a good step toward openness and transparency. They should be commended.