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Citizens are entitled to see public documents; Citizens should utilize tools to get public information

Recent demands for information on wind turbine proposals in Lake Ontario should act as a good reminder to citizens that secretive governments need to be challenged.

In the case of the wind turbines, both the Democrat and Chronicle and, most recently, state Sen. George Maziarz of Niagara County, are pressing the New York Power Authority to release information under the Freedom of Information Law regarding five bids to erect wind turbines.

Although those requests weren’t filed by private citizens, they were filed on behalf of them. But citizens themselves can and should be more proactive in their pursuit of information. It’s easier than ever, so there’s no excuse not to get engaged.

For example, citizens can e-mail a Freedom of Information request to a public body. They can peruse a local government’s website and find all kinds of information, from minutes of meetings to debris pick-up schedules.

Residents should familiarize themselves with the sites, and if valued information is missing, they should contact their town supervisor, for example, and push for more, such as databases of zoning permits or live videocasts of meetings or blogs written by town officials.

One frustration with public meetings is that often documents handed out to elected officials aren’t shared with the audience. That makes it difficult for the public to follow along with what’s being discussed. A proposed state law would require that copies of such documents be provided at the meeting and posted on the Web.

The state Assembly passed the bill, but it’s stuck in a Senate committee. Its sponsor, Sen. Craig Johnson of Long Island, should make it a priority in the next session.

Too often, citizens take for granted the benefits of democracy. One need only watch the nightly news and see resident uprisings in oppressive countries such as Iran to be reminded of the value of transparency.