The sudden departure of the head of New York's Committee on Open Government must not be allowed to weaken the important work of the office for the long term.
Robert Freeman, the executive director and public face of the committee for more than 40 years, was recently fired after an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint. The case was followed by a wave of similar allegations that appear to show Freeman should never have held a position in state government to begin with — and with a scandal now hanging over the office, our fear is that this shakeup might diminish the quality of the work it is able to do.
The committee is the go-to source for learning about New York's Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law. The staff can guide people through the process of making a FOIL request, appealing a denial, or requesting an advisory opinion.
We utilize the expertise of this office frequently — but it isn't just the media that benefit. Cities, towns, villages and boards of all shapes and sizes know that this is the place to get answers about properly conducting meetings and their legal responsibilities regarding the release of public information. Members of the public, as well, can turn to the committee to get their questions answered.
The Committee on Open Government is overseen by the Department of State, which has yet given no indication on the process or the timeline for getting a new executive director in place.
This is an important office that needs to remain an asset for New Yorkers, so we hope that nobody views this an opportunity for a cutback, and we urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make sure that strong leadership be established and staffing levels maintained.
The Citizen editorial board includes interim publisher Thomas Salvo, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.