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Citizens Union of the City of New York

Testimony to the Committee on Technology in Government of the New York City Council On Proposed Intro 533-A, Requiring Webcasting of Public Meetings and Hearings

October 29, 2008

Good morning, Chair Brewer, and other members of the Committee on Technology in Government.  My name is Rachael Fauss, and I am the Policy and Research Associate of Citizens Union of the City of New York, an independent, nonpartisan civic organization of New Yorkers that promotes good government and advances political reform in our city and state.  For more than a century, Citizens Union has served as a watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good. We thank you for holding this hearing on this important bill, which aims to increase the openness of our City government by webcasting the meetings and hearings of the City Council, City agencies, commissions and task forces.

Citizens Union supports Intro 533-A, as it will move the City toward greater openness and transparency of government operations.  Requiring the City Council, City agencies, commissions, and task forces to webcast their public meetings and hearings will increase their accessibility, allowing the public to easily view meetings from any location with internet access.  We believe that this will encourage the public to become more engaged, and will result in more citizens weighing in on the decisions that are made by our local government.  Further, archiving the webcasts will allow citizens to view meetings at later dates and provide an additional public record of the meetings.  We applaud your leadership on this issue and the Council for introducing this important bill, and urge you to consider strengthening the bill further.

We recommend that the bill be expanded to include other government agencies that receive significant funds from the City budget, such as the Board of Elections in the City of New York.  The City Board of Elections is not considered a City agency under the law, but rather is an entity created by state law that receives the majority of its funding from the City.  Additionally, though former Governor Spitzer’s Executive Order 3 from 2007 requires New York State agencies and commissions to webcast their meetings, the City Board of Elections is also not covered under the order.  As the Commissioners of the City Board of Elections are appointed by the City Council, we believe that it is both in the interest of the Council and the public to require their meetings to be webcast under Intro 533-A.

Citizens Union also suggests that the Council conduct a review of other potential entities that may not covered by this bill that receive the majority of their funds from the City to ensure that this bill is as inclusive as possible.

Thank you again for holding this hearing and allowing Citizens Union to present its views.

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