Why are Riverhead elected officials’ financial disclosures not online? The public has a right to know. If the forms are completed on an annual basis, as required by Town ethics code and New York State, what is the reason why they are not posted on the Town’s website? While New York administrative code limits the type of information that is accessible, there is no reason why residents are forced to request, at a cost, the information or in certain cases, the actual financial disclosure document under the Freedom of Information Law? It would make sense to have them as publicly accessible like the ever so late posted town agenda and legislative consent calendar [legislation packet] on the Town’s website.
One argument for not posting the financial disclosure is the staff time that is associated with scanning the document. However, the de minimis task has been recently improved upon by the new content management system that powers the newly re-designed website.
It was recently reported in Newsday that Nassau County is considering a plan to publish elected official’s financial disclosure forms online. Under this plan, Nassau County would join only a limited number of other towns and New York State in making elected officials’ disclosures available online for review. Currently, Riverhead residents can only access similar financial disclosure forms by filing a public records request under the Freedom of Information Law and that should change. Therefore, Riverhead needs to undertake a similar endeavour and devote its best efforts to make its data publicly available in order to promote civic engagement, more effective communication with the public; and to make Town Hall more transparent and accountable.
Making this basic financial disclosure available to everyone is the first step toward citizen oversight of town government. It is important that our neighbors are able to hold our town officials accountable for any conflicts of interests. Ultimately, these documents should be proactively posted online. But the town is far from being a leader on transparency or having a digital footprint. Therefore, Riverhead needs to adopt an Open Data Policy, and on an annual basis review ethics and nepotism policies that enhance or otherwise promote public accountability and take action steps towards a program to facilitate opening town data to the public by including disclosure requirements to town code in the name of transparency.
Bryan Carroll lives in Riverhead
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