New York State political caucus meetings have been exempt from the Open Meetings Law since 1977. A political caucus is when the majority of a governing body meets behind closed doors away from the public to conduct business. The New York State Committee on Open Government does, however, emphasize that it is essential to the democratic process that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that our citizens have the right to observe the performance of our public officials and attend the decisions that set public policy. At the same time, New York State law does allow for legislators to meet in “Executive Session” from which the public may be excluded to discuss eight areas of sensitive business such as those which may imperil public safety.
So what about Sullivan County? Currently, our county legislature consists of nine legislators duly elected by their respective districts. There are seven Democrats who meet regularly in one room to discuss business, and two Republicans who meet in another. Once out of caucus, some debate occurs in committee and then the vote takes place in public with little discussion, since much debate has already taken place in caucus. This conducting of business in a closed caucus hinders communication and information flow among all nine legislators, each representing our people. With questions arising from the public concerning decisions made behind closed doors, it is time to conduct the public’s business in an open and transparent manner by opening closed caucus to the public and utilizing executive session when needed for sensitive business matters only.
The public is encouraged to attend the next full board meeting of the legislature held on Thursday, July 19 at 2 p.m. in the legislative meeting room, second floor of the Sullivan County Government Center.
Cindy Kurpil Gieger
Sullivan County Legislator, District 5