July 4, 2016, is the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. According to Johnson’s press secretary Bill Moyers:
“LBJ had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of open government, hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government closets, hated them challenging the official view of reality.”
Sadly fifty years later many elected officials today feel the same way as Johnson about open government.
Despite the Freedom of Information Law, citizens and the news media have difficulty in getting basic information from government officials. Despite the New York State Open Meetings Law, many government bodies frequently and improperly conduct public business behind closed doors in executive sessions.
Attorney Paul Wolf has experienced first hand the difficulty of obtaining information from public officials and is leading the charge to form the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government. The Coalition will be a nonpartisan, nonprofit, organization dedicated to educating government officials, and citizens about their roles and responsibilities in ensuring an open and accountable government.
The Coalition will focus on:
- Putting on seminars/conferences/training sessions
- Monitoring open government actions and issues
- Posting on-line resources regarding FOIL, Open Meetings Law, etc.
- Assisting citizens and government officials with open government issues
- Filing legal actions if necessary to enforce open government laws
- Sponsoring an open government essay contest for students
- Recognizing Open Government Champions with an award
- Shaming Open Government obstructionists with an award
- Taking part in the national Sunshine Week to draw attention to open government issues
- Creating an Open Government Pledge for candidates and elected officials to sign
The first meeting of the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government will take place today Tuesday June 28th, 5:00 pm at the Partnership for Public Good office located at 617 Main Street (Market Arcade Building), Suite 300 which is on floor 3R (not the third floor).