At the June 7, 2018 committee meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature, Republicans unexpectedly voted in unison to block a resolution to improve transparency in county government. The committee vote occurred along party lines, 6-5.
The resolution, entitled “Resolution for Transparency in Dutchess County volunteer boards and committees” would require the county to list the many volunteer boards and committees on the county website in a consistent manner and explain their purpose. It would list the members of the committees, provide details on when and where they meet and how to volunteer to join one.
Currently, the membership of many boards is unavailable and the very existence of some committees can be hard to confirm, even by legislators.
“We figured something simple like listing committee names on the website would be an easy bipartisan lift for the legislature,” said Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “It is unclear why there is suddenly opposition to requiring this information to be made available to the public.”
Originally put forward at the May meeting, it was tabled at the Republicans’ behest in order to get an updated fiscal impact statement and to clarify the request for the county’s IT department. The current fiscal impact statement is zero – no cost for improved transparency – based on updated language.
“Dutchess makes it hard for residents to find out how to volunteer and join conversations about key issues such as suicide prevention, Lyme disease, elder abuse, or serving the needs of veterans,” said Legislator Rebecca Edwards (D-Poughkeepsie). “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue–it’s a common sense step that would strengthen our community and our government.”
The June vote was to resume consideration of the tabled resolution.
“An inclusive government makes our community stronger. Especially when progress comes with a $0 price tag, perpetuating barriers to participation is indefensible,” said Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon).
Republicans that had stated their support on the floor in May, including Will Truitt (R-Hyde Park), suddenly voted against discussing the same resolution in June.
“If you want to get involved with county government, it ought to be easy to find out how. Government, after all, is not some distant foreign thing, made up of ‘them’. Government is us; we, the people. That’s really what this resolution stands for,” said Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Beacon).
The effort to add volunteer boards and committees to the website follows a successful rules change in January proposed by the Democrats to require legislative committee minutes to be posted separately on the county’s website.
“Combined with the recent change to allow salary increase votes in non-election years, there seems to be a pattern of opposition to transparency and openness,” said Munn. “I hope those opposing this will change their minds or at least give me a sensible reason why not.”