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New Castle Aims for Transparency in Government

NEW CASTLE, N.Y. -- Transparency is an ideal that all governments strive for, even your local New Castle government.

“There is supposed to be transparency in government. The point is to let people know,” said New Castle town clerk Jill Shapiro. “Our meetings are open, they’re televised. We want people to know what’s going on and what’s going to be heard so if they want to come on down and say something to the board, they can always do that.”

“Transparency is very important,” said John Ehrlich, president of Ehrlich Media and News Neighbor. “The thing about transparency in government is with it you don’t know what you don’t see.”

One of the ways that the New Castle government practices transparency is by posting their agendas on their website , as well as throughout the town hall and at the Chappaqua Library. The agendas for town board meetings and work sessions, which take place on Tuesday evenings, are posted by Friday. Some other boards, such as the planning board, the zoning board and the Millwood Task Force may post their agendas sooner, if the matters are not subject to change.

The New Castle Town, Planning and Zoning Board meetings all include time for public (or neighbors) comments, creating a venue for public speech.

“Work session tends to be not so public comment orientated basically because you’re literally sitting in on a working meeting,” Shapiro said. “It’s really for them to have their questions asked and answered and after the meetings, they do occasionally take questions though.”

Erlich argues that governments should make all meetings in New York State subject to open meeting law -- meaning that if more than three board members are meeting to discuss something, the meeting must be open and advertised to the public.

An executive session is a meeting that is strictly private, closed to residents and the press alike. According to the New York State Open Meetings Law Article 7, Section 105, there are six purposes for an executive session.

“I would like to see all meetings open for residents and press, not just the ones mandated by the open meeting laws,” Erlich said.

After meetings are completed, Shapiro retains all the meeting minutes, which contain the happenings of the meeting as well as any formal resolutions passed. Within a few weeks, those minutes can be found on .

“We’re mandated to keep hard copy records so we’ve done years and years of minute books and anyone is welcome to look through them,” Shapiro said. “Actually determinations of the board, resolution approvals are all public record. People are welcome to look at them if there is something in particular that is relevant to them."

Notices of all upcoming meetings can be found on . Information about upcoming town board meetings or work sessions is located on the homepage and further information about other regulatory boards can be found under the “town government” tab under "appointed boards" or you can follow this link . You can also find the contact person and a phone number or e-mail for each board so if a problem arises, residents can contact the necessary board and find their course of action.

Do you feel that your government is as transparent as it can be? Let us know by commenting below or by emailing .

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