Open door to negotiations

Smart Waters negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. Instead, Fulton County and Gloversville officials should do the smart – and right – thing: open the meetings to the public and stop the unnecessary executive sessions.

Gloversville and Fulton County officials met Monday night behind closed doors to discuss the proposed Smart Waters deal.

The purpose of the county’s Smart Waters plan is to implement a regional water and wastewater system using existing excess water and sewer capacity. The goal is to expand water and sewer services outside Gloversville and Johnstown. However, officials in the Glove Cities have been reluctant in recent years to expand water and sewer service outside their municipalities.

While no deal was reached, we have to take the word of those involved. The meeting took place in a closed executive session.

A city official noted the executive session was advised by city and county attorneys. She said they cited a discussion of the particular history of a corporation.

Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said the council should not have called the executive session for that reason.

“I don’t think that any of the grounds of going into executive session could justifiably have been asserted,” Freeman told a reporter.

We agree.

The groups involved in the negotiations are public entities. Information about their operations is already available to those who want to take a look at it.

The public gains nothing by these executive sessions.

Closed-door negotiations that are unwarranted lend credence to the charge public officials are selling out the people they are supposed to represent.

Officials should note what happened in Caroga with the former Sherman’s Amusement Park. A controversial agreement with former Sherman’s owner George Abdella, who donated the park to the town, was eventually tossed. A great part of the controversy was the deal was largely done away from the public; the agreement was essentially made by the time it was announced.

The lesson here? Keeping the public in the dark about deals can cause serious problems for officials – even if they have good intentions.

Government, at any level, is ultimately a creation of the people; it is supposed to serve the public. But when negotiations that should be open to all are conducted behind closed doors, it suggests our officials have it backward: The public is here to serve the government.

Opening the negotiations over Smart Waters to the public will help people trust their officials are looking out for them. When people can see their officials are properly doing their job, everyone benefits.