Open government talk today in Tupper Lake

TUPPER LAKE – Robert Freeman, the executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, believes the public has the right to know what the government is up to.

Freeman will host a free information session and answer questions on the Open Meetings and Freedom of Information laws in the Community Room at the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library in Tupper Lake at 4 p.m. today.

The laws apply to local and state agencies. They require meetings to be open and information to be made available to the public.

“Both laws are based upon a presumption of openness,” Freeman said. “The government has to have a good reason for withholding records or closing meetings.”

Freeman said the laws can be particularly useful to citizens who have issues regarding local government.

“Local government touches people directly,” Freeman said. “If your real taxes are jacked up, you’re not going to go to your congressman; you’re going to go to your local assessor. If your child is having difficulty in school, you’ll try to find out more from your local school district. If there’s an issue involving development in your community, which I know is happening in Tupper Lake, it’s the state and local government agencies that are closest to the people which have the information that people want and need.”

Freeman has worked for the Committee on Open Government since the state Freedom of Information Law was enacted in September 1974. He said he begins his presentations with basic information on FOIL and Open Meetings Law and then opens the floor to questions from the audience.

“I think it’s unfair to give a lecture when I don’t know what’s important to the crowd,” Freeman said. “I will let the crowd determine the course of the discussion. The nature of the questions involving public access to government information will be absolutely unlimited.”

Freeman said at past seminars he’s answered a slew of questions about topics including hydrofracking, windmills, union contracts, qualifications of public employees and public employee salaries. Those topics are all subject to FOIL requests.

“Both FOIL and the Open Meetings Law, in my opinion, are based primarily on common sense,” Freeman said. “All they should ever say is that everything is open, except to the extent that disclosure would hurt in terms of an invasion of personal privacy, in terms of the government’s ability to do its job well on behalf of the public or, on occasion, the impact of the competitive position of a private company.”

Anyone interested in attending the information session should register beforehand by calling the library at 518-359-9421.