Transcripts of Nassau legislature meetings available online

Current and past leaders of the Rockville Centre Current and past leaders of the Rockville Centre Democratic Club gather at the Rockville Centre home of current club president Henry Boitel, seated at lower left. The others, clockwise from upper left, are Dorothea Boitel, secretary, Lillie Poulson, member of the board of directors, Herb Rosenbaum, co-founder and past president and Adele Novack, co-founder and past president. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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For the first time in its 18-year history, transcripts of meetings by the Nassau County Legislature are searchable and available online -- courtesy of a local Democratic club.

Last month, Henry Boitel, president of the Rockville Centre Democratic Club, obtained the transcripts of legislative meetings from 2012, 2013 and the first two months of 2014 through a Freedom of Information Law request.

While Republicans control the county legislature, Boitel said the effort is not directed at them but rather at increasing government transparency.

"The public deserves to know what is happening at these meetings to hold people accountable," said Boitel. "This is not a partisan effort. It's about transparency."

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) supports Boitel's efforts and would be willing to post the documents on the legislature's website, said her spokeswoman Cristina Brennan.

"There's never been any interest in this before," Brennan said. "No one has ever asked for it before."

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The legislature has a stenographer who takes down notes from meetings but transcriptions are available only upon request.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the county should take over posting the meeting documents "to ensure that government is more transparent. People won't always agree with the legislature but they should have an understanding of where we stand."

Abrahams could not offer a reason why Democrats, who controlled the legislature from 2001 to 2009, also did not make meeting transcripts publicly available.

The Suffolk County Legislature has meeting transcripts dating to 2000 available on its website.

Boitel is a semiretired attorney who last year criticized Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs for backing county executive candidate Thomas Suozzi before the party's nominating convention.

Boitel said he spent more than a week loading the documents onto the club's website and cleaning up the files to make them searchable by keyword.

"Right now, there's really very little opportunity to understand the history of the legislature," he said. "We'll give them [viewers] an opportunity to see what happened in the past."

In the coming weeks, he plans to post transcripts from meetings held in 2010, 2011 and from recent meetings in March and April. Boitel's goal is to create an archived record of the 19-member legislature dating to its first meeting in 1996, but he would prefer the county take over the work.

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Legislative meetings, which are generally held every two weeks in the afternoon, are broadcast live through an Internet video feed.

Boitel said the videos could be easily uploaded onto YouTube or the county's website at virtually no cost to taxpayers.

"It's incomprehensible that these videos of legislative meetings are not archived," Boitel said. "It should be part of the official record."

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