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New York City government fails test on records law compliance

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New York City government fails test on records law compliance

  • One in four city offices ignored a freedom of information request from the city council in a city-wide test of how agencies comply with the FOI Law.

May 20, 2003 — Fewer than half of New York City government departments respond properly to freedom of information requests, a New York City Council investigation found.

In a test of government compliance with the state’s open records law, the New York City Council Investigative Division sent written requests to city offices asking for the name, salary and most recent title of all individuals employed by that office or agency. Under the New York Freedom of Information Law, such information clearly is considered a public record.

According to the council’s report, the letter also included a reminder that FOIL requires an agency to respond to a request for information within five business days of receipt of that request.

Only 37 of the 83 New York City offices and agencies tested fully adhered to New York State’s Freedom of Information Law, according the city council’s study. What that means is that these agencies “responded within five business days, and satisfied the request for information, or provided a date by which the request would be filled, and then filled the request by that date.”

Twenty-one city offices tested failed to respond to the request. Even after a second request, 17 offices still failed to respond.

Noncompliance reached the top echelons of city government.

“Mayor Bloomberg’s office failed three separate times to comply” with the investigators’ freedom of information request said Evan Thies a spokesperson in David Yassky’s (D-Brooklyn) office who, along with Eric Gioia (D-Queens) released the report.

“Access to public records is crucial to clean government,” Council Member Gioia said in a May 18 statement. “These deeply troubling findings demonstrate a widespread contempt for the public’s right to know. I’ve always thought sunshine is the best disinfectant — and it seems like our City needs to get a tan.”

Yassky and Gioia plan to introduce legislation that would punish civil servants for destroying or concealing records with a maximum fine of $1,000 or 30 days in jail. They also are calling for ongoing training for the employees in charge of releasing records to the public.

Another bill, introduced by Gioia would “require on-going training for all City agencies and offices in [Freedom of Information Law] compliance,” according to a statement from the city council.

Some openness advocates say the proposed legislation will have little effect in increasing the openness of city government.

“Existing laws already on the books call for the same thing” said Bob Freeman, executive director of the New York Commission on Open Government.


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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