Weekly Feature

2017-03-15 / Local News

Schimminger observes ‘Sunshine Week’

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger is observing Sunshine Week by highlighting two pieces of legislation: one he introduced and the other he is co-sponsoring, aimed at promoting greater transparency in state government.

Sunshine Week is an initiative to educate about the importance of open government and dangers of unnecessary secrecy. It is spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors.

Schimminger recently introduced legislation widening the applicability of the state’s Freedom of Information Law. It accomplishes this by expanding the definition of a government agency to include certain nonprofit entities, according to a press release from the assemblyman’s office.

“This is important legislation, because it allows the press, and thereby citizens of our state, to see inside government-created organizations, including certain nonprofits,” Schimminger said, “creating more transparency and making these shadow agencies more accountable.”

This legislation is based on a recommendation from the Committee on Open Government, which advocates for more openness and transparency in government.

“Robin Schimminger deserves praise for recognizing that nonprofit organizations that are in reality extensions of the government must be accountable to the public,” said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the committee. “Even though those organizations often have control of projects involving millions of taxpayer dollars, they have resisted disclosure of their activities when their records have been requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, known to many as FOIL.”

He added, “Assemblyman Schimminger has introduced legislation to amend FOIL that would clearly bring government-created nonprofit entities, as well as those whose boards of directors are under government control, within the coverage of FOIL, and his efforts should be applauded.”

This legislation would apply to entities that either were created by the government or the majority of their board members were designated by state or local government officials, according to the release.

“As we’ve recently seen, organizations such as the troubled Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road management corporations have carried out their functions for or on behalf of SUNY, and they would not exist but for their relationship with the State University,” said Schimminger, adding, “as such, they should be defined as a governmental agency and fall under the full purview of FOIL.”

Additionally, Schimminger is co-sponsoring legislation that would require appointees to the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils to file annual financial disclosures, bringing them in compliance with the Public Officers Law.

Schimminger is in agreement with Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, who said that requiring councils to disclose their finances is “no different” than the transparency requirements state lawmakers have approved for themselves in recent years.

According to the release, lawmakers have increasingly expressed concern over the REDCs makeup as well as the continued push from the administration to aim transparency measures at the Legislature but not the executive branch itself.

Schimminger, who chairs the Assembly’s economic development committee, noted that unpaid members of state boards and commissions all across the state are subject to the same rules. He also noted that the governor has stated that these Regional Councils have awarded more than five billion dollars in taxpayers’ money since their creation in 2011.

The public, Schimminger says, deserves to know that this funding is being distributed properly.

“All that’s in this proposal is that sunlight fall on the operation of the REDCs so that maybe some problems such as those we’ve seen in other entities in the past couple of years don’t occur in the future at the REDCs,” he said.

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