On Thursday, the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled CitizenConnects, a website designed to open the executive branch to the public. The project, which has been under development for about three months, will deliver on Cuomo’s campaign promise to make his detailed schedule public — when his meetings are, who he meets with, where he is and why he is there. It will also make his travel records available to the public.
“Democracy works when the voice of the people rings strong and citizens participate in government,” Cuomo said about the site which will look to involve citizens with the executive branch. “I urge all New Yorkers to contribute their ideas for building a new New York and join in discussions with their fellow citizens on important state issues.”
The administration, which has faced some criticism for its lack of openness, now promises to reveal an array and depth of information almost hard to imagine in Albany. It could have a major effect on operations in the capital where doing business under wraps and behind closed doors has been standard operating procedure. It all depends on how the Cuomo administration uses it.
Gotham Gazette got an exclusive preview of the site on Wednesday, a day before it launched. CitizenConnects provides advance schedules, detailing up to three weeks of public appearances for cabinet members and commissioners. And it looks back as well, providing detailed records of Cuomo’s schedule, for his first nine months in office.
Other politicians who make their schedules public — like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — list calls they have with other officials, meetings with labor groups, town hall meetings and the like. Administration officials say the site will provide that type of detail regarding Cuomo’s schedule. It will offer less detail on commissioners’ schedules.
The flow of information is meant to be more than just one-way. Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, commissioners and cabinet members will participate in weekly online chats. Using the website, members of the public will be able to submit policy ideas and questions to Cuomo, executive staffers and commissioners.
Cuomo is tentatively scheduled to be part of an on-line chat on the site this Saturday.
One administration official said the site was a “first step,” and that it would become more interactive over time.
The site will keep notices of public meetings and allow users to register to attend meetings of groups such as the Regional Development Councils and to connect with programs like “Labor For Your Neighbor.”
Cuomo has been under increased scrutiny from the press and good government groups because of his apparent failure to deliver on the promise of greater transparency. Recently, a controversy over redacted travel records and Cuomo’s predilection for sharing very little with the press have caused pressure to mount for him to become more accessible and the administration to be more transparent. A recent Newsday article the Cuomo administration details how its recently-issued list of public information officers does not include their home or cell phone numbers–something that the Spitzer and Paterson administration did include. Yet with sterling approval ratings and loads of legislative accomplishments, some felt that the administration felt little need to open up. The release of the site comes just five days before a panel discussion at the New School titled, “Cuomo and the Media: Managing the Message.”
Of the new website, Cuomo said, “This will be a town hall in every sense. It will be an open forum for New Yorkers to interact and participate in their government, it will be a place New Yorkers can visit to communicate with their leaders and sign up for community activities, and it will allow New Yorkers to have a direct window into the workings of their government.”
The administration started work on the project three months ago after the end of a whirlwind legislative session and has been discussing the initiative with good government groups. It attributed further delay to Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding that followed.
Up until now the Cuomo administration has released a schedule of events the governor attends, events such as closed-door meetings with his cabinet and informs readers that he will be in “Westchester and Albany.” It does not, though, detail who he is meeting with or say exactly where he is.
Azi Paybarah of Capital New York asked Cuomo about openness in his administration during a question and answer session in June. “I think I disclose on a daily basis where I am, what my public schedule is. I think we’ve been doing it on a daily basis,” Cuomo replied.
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