By Holly Crocco
The Putnam County Legislature on Sept. 3 approved a revision of a new law that regulates the disclosure of “confidential” material that it said addresses concerns raised by the county executive.
In July, the Legislature voted 7-1 to pass a law to make many materials secret. The vote on the revised law was 8-1. A public hearing that is required before County Executive MaryEllen Odell can enact the measure is scheduled for Sept. 25 at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.
The revised law adds two provisions emphasizing that confidential material may be disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request or by whistleblowers. It also removed a provision that would allow any legislator, county employer or contractor to mark a document “confidential” to keep it secret.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and is the only Democrat on the nine-member panel, cast the lone “no” vote. She reiterated her feelings that, even with the revision, the law is hard to understand.
“Unless we are familiar with every state and federal statute, every county official and every county employee will have to check with the county attorney before releasing any documents for fear of committing an ethical violation or inadvertently releasing a document that is exempt from FOIL,” she said.
Montgomery added that the legislation needs more work.
“There’s still a lot wrong with this law,” she said. “I feel strongly that it just puts a gag order on certain legislators, and maybe that’s why it came about. My goal is to make us more transparent in the public eye and this puts a big damper on that. We’re putting ourselves in a bad position.”
Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel) said the revision clarified the legislation’s intent.
“There are things that the public is entitled to and that will never change,” he said. “There are also documents that shouldn’t be out in the public.”