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Village passes law penalizing leaks from town meetings

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Freedom of Information         Feb 11, 2002    

Village passes law penalizing leaks from town meetings

  • The Asharoken, N.Y., Board of Trustees passed a law that criminalizes leaking information from closed-door village meetings and calls for punishment for those that disclose confidential information.

A New York village passed a law on Jan. 28 that makes disclosing information from closed-door village meetings a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

Asharoken Mayor William Kelly said the village always adhered to a policy against disclosing information from confidential meetings, but there was no penalty. Now there is a penalty, and some critics are calling it a gag order.

“It essentially forbids, in this instance, government officials from speaking,” said Bob Freeman, director of the State Committee for Open Government.

But Kelly said the law is legitimate because executive information is not to be discussed.

“The press calls it a gag order,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the press.”

Freeman said the public has a right to know what the government is doing and that information from meetings should be available and accessible.

“How else do we know that our representatives are representing us the way we like?” Freeman said.

Asharoken isn’t the first New York village to enact such a law. Officials in Rome, N.Y., adopted a similar law last year but later repealed it. The Rome law protected records “that might jeopardize the relationship” between the mayor and the public and threatened those who leaked information with possible jail time.

But Kelly said Asharoken’s law is less comprehensive and only protects meetings already exempt from being open.

Freeman said he did not think the law would go before the court. He said he hopes the law will be reconsidered because it is “probably unenforceable and probably unconstitutional.”

“Can it be possible or even ethical to punish people speaking about what should’ve been disclosed to the public in the first place?” Freeman said.


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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