Clarence residents who are curious about what their elected representatives will be talking about at Town Board meetings get few clues ahead of time.
That’s about to change.
Town Supervisor David C. Hartzell Jr. says Clarence will improve its system for sharing information with the public by asking for agenda items to be submitted earlier and posting more information online. The Town Board at its work session last week discussed the topic after The Buffalo News requested that more information be made available to residents.
The agenda for the meetings – posted on the town’s website days in advance, and copies of which are available in the auditorium – does not list resolutions that will be discussed and voted on.
Hartzell, who took office in January, has asked for department heads to submit motions and resolutions by the Friday before the Wednesday meetings. He said that too many items were being submitted just before the meetings and that he is thinking about making the deadline even earlier.
Hartzell said Clarence is looking at towns such as Amherst, Grand Island and Orchard Park to devise a new system of gathering information from department heads, converting it to motions and resolutions, and posting it to the website for the public. Hartzell said the town’s current system is in place until Jan. 1.
Town Councilman Robert A. Geiger said he favors a new approach.
“I’d like to change our system on resolutions,” he said.
The changes under discussion would be in line with recent revisions to the state’s Open Meetings Law, said Town Councilman Bernard J. Kolber.
“The idea and the intention is so that residents, citizens of the town can click on the website, can find this, and know ahead of time, these are the motions that are up that might be acted on,” Kolber said.
Many other towns provide more information than Clarence via their websites, such as a list of resolutions, sometimes with links to the text, before their board meetings.
Some types of information, such as a list of public hearings, are already on the Clarence agenda. And the town’s Planning and Zoning Department provides a rundown of projects working their way through the approval process.
But resolutions or motions, which frequently drive the discussion at meetings, are not listed. The town supervisor and the four town councilmen talk about them at a work session just before the board’s regular meeting. Votes are then taken at the regular meeting. Recent motions have dealt with altering the town’s deer control policy, contracts, job appointments, fund transfers, grant applications and bid awards.
Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said it is not illegal for resolutions to be submitted at the last minute.
“Sometimes entities have to deal with situations that have arisen, and maybe it’s best to deal with them quickly,” he said.
Freeman said putting more information online would save town employees work in the long run.
“When material is posted online, people don’t have to use the Freedom of Information Law to request it,” he said.