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Local colleges receive failing grades for transparency

All 10 public colleges and universities in Western New York earned failing grades when it came to openness and transparency despite being bound by the same rules as other governmental entities, according to the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government.

Some of the colleges and universities were zinged by the nonprofit group for, among other things, failing to publish on their websites the meeting agendas and related documents before their councils or boards of trustees met – as well as meeting minutes afterward.

In celebration of Sunshine Week, the nonpartisan group said in a report Monday that none of the 10 schools evaluated received a passing grade or 65 percent or higher.

Attorney Paul Wolf, president of the coalition, shared details of the report Monday with University at Buffalo journalism students, during a workshop in Capen Hall on UB's North Campus.

Wolf said one of the major obstacles to getting colleges, universities and other government entities to comply with the state's Open Meetings Law is that there is no enforcement mechanism.

"In many states around the country, you can go to your state attorney general to enforce the law. We don't have that in New York State," Wolf said.

"As weak as the law is, it really needs to be strengthened," he added.

The coalition gave the following scores to these schools:

The University at Buffalo, 64; Erie Community College, 53; SUNY Fredonia, 39; Niagara County Community College, 28; Jamestown Community College, 23; SUNY Empire State College, 20; SUNY Buffalo State, 10; Alfred State, 6; and Genesee Community College and SUNY Geneseo, 0.

The group scored the colleges and universities on whether trustees' meeting agendas and documents – as well as meeting minutes – are routinely posted online, if the meetings are videotaped and posted online, if members of the public are allowed to speak at the meetings and if motions made to go into executive session are done in accordance with the Open Meetings Law.

Only five of the 10 schools reviewed post meeting agendas with accompanying documents, according to the report, which notes that is a basic requirement of open government law.

Genesee Community College, SUNY Buffalo State, SUNY Empire State College, Jamestown Community College and SUNY Geneseo posted no meeting minutes at all over the five-year period reviewed by the coalition.

As Genesee Community College, SUNY Buffalo State, SUNY Empire State College, Jamestown Community College and Geneseo Community College don't post meeting minutes on their websites, the report said there was no way to determine if their boards follow proper procedure when it comes to holding executive sessions that legally exclude the public.

Only the boards at Niagara County Community College and Jamestown Community College allow the public to speak at their meetings, according to the report.

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