Any time former Gov. George Pataki feels like turning over correspondence from his 12 years in office, archivists will be happy to receive it.
Fifteen months after leaving office, Pataki has handed over press releases and files relating to legislation but not letters and e-mails, state archivist Christine Ward says.
“We’re always hopeful,” Ward said Tuesday. “Normally at the end of an administration, records are transferred to the archives. We would be happy to have additional records transferred.”
Prior New York governors dating back to the 19th century turned over their official correspondence, said James Folts, chief of reference services at the archives.
A spokesman for Pataki, David Catalfamo, said the former governor was reviewing what additional materials he may turn over to the archives, which are used by scholars and journalists.
Ward said state law is unclear regarding what documents a governor must make public.
“We do not have a statute in New York that defines clearly what governors’ records are public records,” she said. “We need to have a statute that makes that clear.”
A bill to clarify a governor’s obligations to provide records has passed the Democratic-controlled state Assembly several times but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The bill would empower archivists to take control of documents considered of historical value and would require the release of documents concerning appointments and other privileged information no later than 15 years after a governor leaves office.
“It would bring the standards for the governor’s papers to the level of the Library of Congress,” said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, the Buffalo Democrat who has sponsored the legislation.
Hoyt said he hopes the bill passes this year.
Ward said Pataki, a Republican, delivered press releases and bill jackets, or folders with letters and memos pertaining to the history of bills that he signed or vetoed.
In Pataki’s first month in office, in January 1995, he signed extradition papers returning convicted murderer Thomas Grasso to Oklahoma, where he was executed within weeks. In his second year, he signed a bill into law requiring that the mothers of infants who test positive for AIDS or HIV be notified of the test results. In 2003, he signed a bill sent him by the Legislature to ban smoking in virtually all workplaces in the state. The next year, he signed a bill easing the harsh Rockefeller-era drug laws.
Pataki also was in office during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the World Trade Center and when, three years later, the cornerstone was laid for the new Freedom Tower at ground zero.
Much of the correspondence from Pataki’s three terms consists of e-mails, and Ward said state law is not clear about how to determine what materials out of the volume of e-mail should be made public.
“We need to have in New York state a better way of identifying what of all that e-mail that’s created is a record,” she said. “We’re working on that.”
Pataki left office on Dec. 31, 2006. He abandoned a campaign for the Republican nomination for president in the spring of last year.