Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Important Meeting Tonight

Kim Jen/The Ithacan
Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Department of State's Committee on Open Government, will conduct a workshop on open government tonight, Tuesday, September 23. The workshop, organized by Hudson Forward, takes place at Basilica Hudson, 110 South Front Street, beginning at 6 p.m.  

1 comment:

  1. In March of this year, my Freedom of Information Law request to a city department was not able to be honored in the time required by law.

    The city department asked for an extension of so many weeks, which I politely granted.

    (Most FOIL requests in Hudson are handled by the City Clerk, but the Clerk is only a conduit for the documents that are then provided by respective departments.)

    When the materials requested were finally ready for viewing, a corrugated box containing thousands of pages awaited me at the Clerk's desk.

    It took great concentration to study every page, the effort to annotate each document for my notes requiring many return trips.

    The box was stored in the open behind the Clerk's desk at City Hall.

    With each study, I'd begin at the beginning, re-familiarizing myself with each and every document, reviewing every single page.

    By the time I was done with my research in June, I was thoroughly familiar with the contents of the box.

    The purpose of my FOIL request was to determine whether or not proof existed for something required of the city by law, so from first to last I was on the lookout for what was missing in the collection.

    I routinely asked city officials to account for the missing papers, if any, and was informed that "everything we have on [the subject] is in that box."

    Four days before the end of the Public Comment period on the subject in question, a city official informed the Common Council that, although the documentation I sought could not be found, “that doesn’t mean [the requirement] didn’t take place.”

    Two days later - the second to last day of our Public Comment period - I returned to the box for a final, complete study.

    Lo and behold! there were the missing papers, tucked in among the thousands of otherwise identical pages. They'd been repatriated without notice, and at the very last minute.

    As it turned out, the document was barely sufficient for its intended purpose. But the fact that it existed could eventually be used to embarrass anyone who'd accuse the city of having ignored a federal requirement. Why be so sneaky otherwise?

    When I brought this outrage to the attention of our City Clerk, without weighing in one way or the other she replied that she wished she had a locking door.

    I phoned Mr. Freeman's "Committee on Open Government" to get their opinion. I was told that, while the details of my account surely described some sort of dishonesty, in fact no state laws were broken.

    The Department of State's advice was to produce an affidavit, which is now in the works.

    So I'd like to ask the excellent Mr. Freeman a rhetorical question, which I'm sure he'll welcome:

    Would his Committee on Open Government recommend that a Clerk who is also the conduit for all FOIL requests to city government be provided with a LOCKING DOOR?!