FOILed Again: Day 1
by Geoff Kelly - posted 9:54 am, April 25, 2008
A couple months ago, fed up with the City of Buffalo’s policy on sharing public documents, I wrote a piece about it. Basically the city’s policy is this: There is no such thing as a public document that can be shared with a citizen without that citizen filing a formal request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The City of Buffalo, in fact, pretends that New York State law compels the city to require a formal FOIL request, even for something so innocuous as the minutes of a meeting that are normally posted online but, for some reason or another, have not been.
That’s nonsense, according to the state’s Committee on Open Government, as I wrote in my article. But the policy allows the city to control and delay the flow of information. In the case of the news media, the policy gives the administration time to anticipate potentially negative stories. The policy forces journalists to pursue information through back channels, which opens their sources to the repercussions that attend breaking the administration’s lockdown policy on sharing information.
The FOIL process comes with built-in delays: The recipient of a request has five business days to acknowledge receipt of your request, even in these modern times when most FOIL requests are filed by email. The recipient has 20 additional business days to provide the information you’ve requested or offer a convincing explanation why they can’t. The city often ignores even those fairly generous constraints.
Why am I rehashing all this today, besides that it’s a frustration that nags at me each and every morning?
Because yesterday afternoon at 5:29pm, I filed a FOIL request with Peter Cutler, Mayor Byron Brown’s director of communications, cutting out the middle men. (This is how it goes usually: You ask the person who might have a document if you can have it; he or she tells you to file a FOIL with Peter Cutler; Cutler forwards your request around and copies in Assistant Corporation Counsel Cavette Chambers; they mull it over; when and if they respond, Chambers forwards the appropriate documents and explanations to you.) The requests asks for all budgeting and expenditure documents related to the Mayor’s Impact Team since January 1, 2006.
I thought that, if only for my own amusement, I’d track the city’s response time. So today is Day 1.
You can read the text of my FOIL request to Peter Cutler after the jump…
Subject: FOIL request
Date: April 24, 2008 5:29:49 PM EDT
Can you please forward this request to the appropriate departments? I am requesting that the following records be provided to me by the City of Buffalo, with all due haste, as per New York State’s Freedom of Information Law:
—all records regarding budget requests made by the Mayor’s Impact Team since January 1, 2006;
—all records regarding budget allocations made to the Mayor’s Impact Team since January 1, 2006;
—all records regarding expenditures made by the Mayor’s Impact Team since January 1, 2006;
—all records regarding financial audits performed, if any, of expenditures by the Mayor’s Impact Team since January 1, 2006.
If all the requested records cannot be emailed to me, please inform me by email of the portions that can be emailed and advise me of the cost for reproducing the remainder of the records requested ($0.25 per page or actual cost of reproduction).
If the requested records cannot be emailed to me due to the volume of records identified in response to my request, please advise me of the actual cost of copying all records onto a CD.
If my request is too broad or does not reasonably describe the records, please contact me via email so that I may clarify my request, and when appropriate inform me of the manner in which records are filed, retrieved or generated.
If it is necessary to modify my request, and an email response is not preferred, please contact me at the telephone numbers below. If for any reason any portion of my request is denied, please inform me of the reasons for the denial in writing and provide the name, address and email address of the person or body to whom an appeal should be directed..
Geoff Kelly, Editor