An open letter to incoming Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods:
As the next person to occupy the top day-to-day post in Cayuga County government, we make a simple request on behalf of the public: Make the county's budget formation process much more transparent.
For the past month, the Cayuga County Legislature talked about the 2018 budget and made some small adjustments along the way. After formally adopting a tentative plan on Nov. 16, legislators held a public hearing on the document Tuesday night as part of its regular monthly meeting. But they seemed to forget about one rather important detail: Putting the full budget proposal on the county website. Perhaps it's there somewhere, but as of Wednesday afternoon, we couldn't find it.
Sadly, this isn't the first year this omission has happened. But we thought it had been fixed under the leadership of your predecessor. The 2017 Cayuga County budget process was the most transparent we had seen in many years.
The failure to continue that transparency may have been one reason that no one from the public offered any comment on Tuesday night. Rather than make more of an effort to engage the public in this process, the majority of the legislators voted to adopt the document on the spot. This move came despite a final budget vote resolution not being on the agenda that had been shared with the public ahead of the meeting.
New York state's open meetings law doesn't forbid such votes on non-agenda items from taking place, but it does include this important provision: "If the agency in which a public body functions maintains a regularly and routinely updated website and utilizes a high speed internet connection, such records shall be posted on the website to the extent practicable as determined by the agency or the department, prior to the meeting."
Clearly this requirement was ignored with respect to several budget-related meetings over the past month.
We realize that it's been a challenge keeping county government running over the past year with the vacancy in the position you're about to fill. Several legislators have given considerable time and effort for the cause, and that included the work to draft the 2018 budget.
But as you come into the position, Mr. Woods, we urge you to refresh your knowledge of open meetings and records laws in this state, and make it a point of emphasis to turn Cayuga County government into a model of transparency.
The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.