Cobleskill Village gets F on Open Meetings


The Village of Cobleskill got the lowest score possible from a group that monitors compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Law.
Released earlier this month, the report from the New York Coalition for Open Government gave the village an F for failing on all counts to reach out to the public.
But Cobleskill Mayor Becky Terk angrily disputed the report, saying the village meets all requirements of the Open Meetings Law.
The Coalition for Open Government, a non-profit, all-volunteer group, studied 20 villages. (See related on this week’s Times-Journal.) The report rated their websites on posting meeting minutes, agenda, documents and also, whether public comment is allowed.
The Coalition gave Cobleskill a zero on all four counts, the only village scoring that low.
Cobleskill’s website is through Schoharie County’s, and the village’s site “is one of the most difficult I’ve ever seen, and I’ve looked at hundreds,” said Paul Wolf, Coalition president.
The village allows public comment at its meetings, though Mr. Wolf couldn’t determine that through the website.
And although Cobleskill’s site may be difficult to navigate, the village does post meeting minutes. Clerk-Treasurer Sheila Wilday posts minutes after the board approves them; for instance, February minutes won’t be posted until trustees approve them at their March 16 meeting, held last night.
Cobleskill doesn’t post agendas, a key part of the Coalition’s study.
Not posting an agenda “completely leaves the public in he dark. . .” the report reads. “The public should have some idea as to what topics the village board plans on discussing and voting on.”
“If they want us to post agendas, we’ll post them,” Mayor Terk responded.
Several other villages in the study post documents to be discussed at an upcoming meeting. Doing so isn’t feasible for Cobleskill, according to Mayor Terk
“It would involve literally hundreds of pages,” she said. “If you want to know, by all means call the office or email.”
Overall, she said, the village “does everything the [Open Meetings] law requires.”
Mr. Wolf noted that Cobleskill is one of the very few villages without its own website. Having one, he said, would facilitate getting information to the public.
Former mayor Linda Holmes started a village website six years ago, but Mayor Terk said she’s phasing it out in favor of using the county site, which is free.
Mayor Terk estimated that a stand-alone site for the village would cost about $1,200 a year.
While that doesn’t seem costly, “it is when we can get the county site for free,” she said.
In an email exchange with Mayor Terk, Mr. Wolf raised Cobleskill’s score to 30––still a grade of F.
“A 30. . .if that makes any difference,” Mr. Wolf added.
The Coalition for Open Government has no enforcement power, and there’s no state agency to force compliance with the law.
The Coalition can only encourage compliance, either through education or sometimes, embarrassment.
“We’ve had some success,” Mr. Wolf said. “A lot of times, officials are unaware. Some are very receptive. Others are, ‘We don’t care what you think.’ ”
Encouragement through embarrassment touched a nerve with Mayor Terk.
“You want to come out and embarrass me? I don’t believe it,” she said.