FOILed Again: Peter Cutler Responds to Criticism
by Geoff Kelly - posted 1:43 pm, August 13, 2009
A poster over at SpeakupWNY shared the automatic response one receives when, prompted by Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan, one writes to Mayor Byron Brown to complain about the city stonewalling the media on Freedom of Information requests.
Here it is:
The Mayor’s Office has received your e-mail regarding the August 9, 2009 column written by the editor of the Buffalo News.
Let me make this statement as clearly as possible: The Mayor’s Administration has obeyed and will continue to obey the law, whether it involves Freedom of Information (FOI) law issues or any other issue. There is absolutely no evidence to the contrary.
It was the editor who brought politics into her argument regarding the release of public documents and the upcoming mayoral primary election. But, as the editor knows well, if the paper truly has a quarrel regarding FOI and the availability of public documents from the city, the paper has plenty of legal recourse to follow. To date, the paper has not done so.
So this is not about obeying the law – the Administration, in every instance of processing a FOI request, whether from the Buffalo News or any other media outlet, has followed the letter of the law, without exception. This was clearly a political statement by the paper.
There are always two sides to every story. On Sunday you heard one side and now you have the other side.
Thank you for sharing your comments with us, we always appreciate the input we receive from the public.
Peter K. Cutler
Director of Communications
Office of the Mayor
Paragraph 1: True enough.
Paragraph 2: Not true enough. There is indeed evidence that the mayor’s office has ignored the law on FOIL requests. Artvoice has often been made to wait more that five business days for acknowledgment of a FOIL request, in violation of the law, and more than 30 business days for the information we’ve requested, in violation of the law. On a few occasions, we have never received the information requested or an explanation as to why we have not—again, a violation of the law. Based on Sullivan’s column, it sounds like the News has similar problems with the mayor’s office. I don’t always rush to defend the Buffalo News, but I’m pretty sure Sullivan and reporter Jim Heaney would not say they’ve been stonewalled unless it’s true.
Paragraph 3: I’m not sure where Cutler see politics in Sullivan’s column. But I don’t doubt he does: It’s primary season, so he’ll imagine that any criticism of the Brown administration is steeped in politics. As to the existence of legal recourse, he’s right—the News can take the city to court. In doing so, the News guarantees that the wait for the release of public documents will be prolonged even further. If the court finds the city has stonewalled the News (or Artvoice, or an individual citizen), the city receives a slap on the wrist. This is a good state to be a journalist generally speaking, in terms of law, but FOIL has no teeth, and neither do our open meetings statutes or our campaign finance law.
Paragraph 4: Again, that clearly not true, and again, there’s nothing political in Sullivan’s statement. She did not endorse the mayor’s opponent in her column. I doubt very much that her paper will, either.
Paragraph 5: In fact there are at least two sides to every story, usually far more than two. Cutler’s side of the story is full of holes.
Paragraph 6: Well, I suppose that’s pro forma but it certainly rings false. Is the mayor’s office truly grateful for this criticism? Does the mayor appreciate it?